Viewing History Through Google Glasses

google-glass-banI wrote a post in June about emerging technologies and how some professionals think they may impact the way we live. I recently read an article that lists the Top 10 Places Google Glass (one of the technologies I referenced in June) Is or Will be Banned. Most of the Banned List makes sense and like most technology, Google Glass exhibits excellent applications and worrisome complications.

I am more interested whether these glasses will be banned in Education. Cell phones were once universally outlawed in schools but now they are seen in some teaching circles as a valuable instructional tool. Besides the obvious safety concern mentioned in the linked article, the ability to record images or lectures presented in class could be a huge benefit to many learners. Indeed, there is already a Teacher’s Guide how to effectively use the Glass. I think it is only a matter of time that some form of wearable technology becomes the norm in society and yes, the classroom. That said, I am interested in the impacts this type of wearable technology will have on teachers and students and the classroom as we know it.

  • If students know these devices are worn and can record anything, will this impact, for example, a student’s fear of answering incorrectly knowing it may be played for a wider online audience?
  • What impact will the ability of friends, parents, and administrators to watch classes through a device worn by a student or teacher have on daily interaction and instruction?
  • Will there need to be designated times or recesses for students to see and think on their own, outside the virtual domain?
  • My hunch is that it will be more of an adjustment for teachers to accept that their classrooms will become widely accessible outside their brick and mortar surroundings while their role as the source of learning will decline. Again, I don’t see some of the bans mentioned lasting long without some major investment in security and enforcement.
  • Society lacks the will and any clear process that allows us to discern if a specific technology is worthwhile or not. Where the simple question is asked, “Just because we can, does that mean we should?” Without a shift in our thinking, technology will keep pushing societal change.  That is why I think it is so important for all aspects of society to discuss these technologies and determine how best they can be used so we can teach expected and accepted norms or ediquette.

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grant google glass

If Grant wore Google Glass…

But the Google Glass backlash discussed in this article and the potential for recording our entire daily life brought up another issue that is of interest to me and many historians. How will all of this material recorded by Google Glass be used by future historians? A recent back and forth between two historians provoked more in depth thought on this topic. This past June, Garry Adelman suggested more historians should maintain a diary outside the typical-social media we use to communicate today.

Adelman writes, “…any medium meant for public consumption is inherently not as forthright, not as personal, and not as honest as something that is meant for yourself. If you are true to the process, a diary must be among frankest of all media.” Adelman continues, that the daily mental exercise of journaling will help historians “increase your connection to history by understanding the importance of the present.”

Another historian, Larry Cebula, took stark issue with Adelman and responded with a blog post to prove the obvious point that our digital age (he didn’t include the data which wearable technology like Google Glass will add) is providing a treasure trove of information how we ALL live day to day for future historians. Cebula thought it silly to think that old fashioned journalling would add any more understanding for future investigators. I thought at the time that Cebula missed Adelman’s point and the more I think about his response and read articles pertaining to new technologies, the more I understand Adelman’s distinction more clearly. And I think this point is critical as we move forward as historians, students and as a society.

grant writing

… would he have felt the need to write his memoirs? Would blink photographs, raw tweets and texts which are the same as written letters and orders then, be more useful than his own thoughts and analysis?

All the present social media devices provide in the moment thoughts that will be (as Cebula asserts) invaluable pieces of information. For example, I was intrigued by the reactions on Twitter to the Travon Martin ruling by professional athletes. They posted a variety of reactions, some of which later required an apology for those “in the moment” messages. It is incredible that twitter is archiving thoughts and reactions which were at one time only known to the individual or spoken and lost in conversations.

In contrast to the urge to react instantaneously online, I think Adelman’s suggestion is for us to take the time to reflect and discern on our daily life and events around us. In essence, by our attempts to make meaning of the onslaught daily interaction, we will be doing a great service for  ourselves (and future historians). Of those athletes who spoke out against the Martin verdict and advocated violence, how interesting would it be to read their diary entry (to themselves) that may explain their tweet, possible past experiences that relate to the case and even reaction to other tweets.

The way most of us live today, I would argue we do not as Adelman states, understand the importance of the “present.” For example, as I insinuated at the beginning of this post, I seldom realize I am already “wearing” technology and I wonder if/ever others come to that realization. I wear my I-phone in an arm band with headphones when I mow the lawn or run. While on a run one evening my phone lit up when a call came in. The podcast I was listening to paused, I listened to the voice mail, and the podcast continued all while I ran. I have to admit that is pretty awesome and as I continued my run with my arm glowing, I felt like an out of shape cyborg. But I was “wearing” it just like I may wear something like Google Glass at some point. We all probably will. We just “do” technology without thinking about it and it takes a lit up screen on a night run or an “off the cuff” tweet that offends thousands of people to realize we are already mindlessly using technology. How many of us reflect on a daily basis if technology or any other aspect of our daily life is good for us? A little introspection may even confirm the positive aspects of a technology.

I don’t argue that the raw data Cebula mentions will be valuable for future analysis. But Adelman is saying that we can help out those historians by making sense of the raw material today. The meaning we give to our daily lives would be the real treasure trove for the future historian.

I am happy that MUHS practices the Examen which is what Jesuits use to reflect on daily life and essentially discern what went well and what not so well. Each day our entire school pauses silently for several minutes to hear a reading over the loud speaker which encourages the exercise of “being present.” From daily Examen, reflection, prayer or journal writing, you make sense of the day and become more connected to the present. This technological age may make this type of “mental exercise” more important than ever. And yes, I agree with Adelman that this activity and awareness could even make you a better historian.

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