This is a short piece I’ve written for my friend’s blog, AppAdvice. I used to write there, back when electronics mattered more to me than steel, brass, and lead. I’m not sure they’ll post it, as they try to stay as apolitical and globally neutral as possible. But the idea inside is a valuable one, and while it’s predicated on a moral/social outrage, I think I’ve kept things fairly well vanilla enough for mainstream consumption.
(If you really want to know my thoughts on the Ferguson debacle and don’t follow me on Twitter, here’s my take based on everything we know so far: A bored, petty policeman named Darren Wilson wanted to play nanny by stopping two teenagers for walking in an empty, small-town street. He spoke down to these indignant thugs of young men, one of whom — Michael Brown — verbally responded in kind, as fully expected. Using this as a premeditated excuse to action, Wilson escalated absolutely nothing into a direct physical confrontation by attempting to get out of his cruiser to detain the pair. Naturally, in his gusto to flex his badged muscle, he failed to activate his dashcam or radio for any assistance. He was casual in his perceived superiority. Brown, on the other hand, immediately fought back with violence. Was it preemptive? Perhaps. Was it understandable? Maybe. Was it a monumentally awful idea? Definitely. The cop then shoots the kid as the latter charges in for more, which actually seems to be Wilson’s only justified action in the entire affair. The town erupts. Afterwards, Ferguson PD fumbles the ball on a daily basis, waiting a few days to publicly release unrelated robbery footage involving Brown and waiting 10 days to release the hospital report on Wilson, who allegedly received a broken face in the scuffle. Meanwhile, the Ferguson police chief passed the buck to the highway patrol and county sheriffs while his staff refused to combat looters as they ransacked the city and damaged dozens of businesses, ultimately costing taxpayers, insurance companies, and private citizens millions of dollars. The governor stepped in and pathetically imagined a curfew might help, but he was quickly out of ideas and appealed to the National Guard for assistance. Eric Holder got involved as Barack Obama played golf, calling for two extra autopsies of Brown in an effort to push a false, racist narrative, and the star witness was just yesterday confirmed to be an active fugitive wanted for robbery and filing false statements. The only good guys in this entire stinking affair were the few local business owners who armed up and saved their properties from state-sanctioned destruction. These few brave Americans aside, Ferguson is full to the brim with scum on all sides, and dozens (if not hundreds) of these parasites need to be tried and jailed for their abject immorality. Indeed, how I feel about Ferguson is how I feel about the police state: Let it burn, and vote it out. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the black community will trade their handouts for such new freedom, even after this stark, screaming message from the heavens.)
Now then, the article:
Earlier this week, Apple again became the world’s most valuable company, reaching record stock numbers and once again eclipsing $600 billion in market capitalization. Whether this is a harbinger of greater things to come — or merely the start of recent history repeating — remains to be seen.
However, for those analysts presumably in the know, much of Apple’s current hype, along with much of the brand’s actual future potential, seems predicated on the hope and hype of so-called “wearable technology.” Sure, Apple’s new iPhone will be a hit, and the new iPad will beckon millions of upgrades, but the real excitement (for Wall Street, anyway) seems reserved, somehow, for the oft-rumored “iWatch.” Indeed, many industry experts and investment agencies believe that wearables are the next big thing, some even claiming that the movement will dwarf that of the past decade’s smartphone revolution. Others are skeptical.
And for good reason.
It’s certainly isn’t easy to ignore that Google’s done its darnedest to build up and sell its Glass product (which, in terms of features and flexibility, seems far more attractive to the consumer than a health-oriented wristwatch could ever be), but the value proposition for a $1500 robot monocle is a little north of laughable, and sales have been expectedly weak. For any technology to make the mass market cut, it’s got to be affordable. But even more than that, as evidenced by high-end computers, television sets, and home entertainment systems that regularly soar past the thousand-dollar mark, the technology has to be socially pertinent.
The technology has to matter.
As the recent events in Ferguson, MO, show, that watershed moment for wearables might have finally arrived.
Without condoning or condemning the unknown (and, more to the point, unknowable) events that precipitated America’s most current sociopolitical outrage, we can look upon the situation as an important crisis of conscience — one that practically begs existing, inexpensive technology to come to the rescue for the noble causes of individual Liberty, Constitutional freedom, and natural law and order.
Consider the common dashcam. Developed decades ago specifically to document law enforcement engagements and combat insurance fraud in both the public and private sectors, the technology is now so commonplace that the average middle class citizen — here and most of the world over — regularly utilizes the concept as a basic safety measure. Even before the dashcam, as far back as World War One, we had the gun camera, a bulky device capable of recording aerial combat (in the most obscenely convoluted and technical manner possible), so that reality and truth in times of dynamic hostility might be more completely understood. Heck, in 1934 — 1934! — one enterprising company was even manufacturing this wonderful thing, for precisely the same reason that such a device (albeit a more safely activated one) seems to be so obviously overdue and necessary here in 2014.
Today, we have effectively reduced the bulk of the above technology into packages the size of postage stamps, complete with tiny all-day batteries and full HD recording capabilities. Had either of the parties involved in the Ferguson event been wearing something like a Google Glass or mounted GoPro camera, we angry and befuddled onlookers might’ve had the whole story presented quickly and believably, and dozens of private businesses might have been spared a ceaseless, senseless violent riot. Of course, because of cost considerations and an almost nonexistent level of mainstream mindshare regarding wearable technology products in general, neither of the unfortunately involved was wearing any such device, and the moral cloud of uncertainty that hangs over Missouri and all of America is a product of that reluctance.
Finally, the social need for wearable technology has been demonstrated.
Most of this obvious need, on the surface, seems to peg wearable technology products as necessarily camera-oriented, and that might truly be a fundamental reality. Remember, it was with the advent of the iPhone 4 just a few years ago that Apple’s mobile camera module became one of the most popular photography tools in the world, and that trend has only increased, turning even the most antisocial, unremarkable, stoic homebodies among us into insatiable shutterbugs. Before the iPhone, I’d taken fewer than 100 pictures in my entire life. Now, I’ll fill up an empty Photo Stream in a week. There’s no quicker, more comprehensive way to share an idea or a moment in all its glory, and smartphones — aside from their basic voice and text applications — are almost unanimous in their most popular media feature. There seems little reason to think that wearable technology wouldn’t embrace photography and videography in much the same headlining, long-lasting way.
Taken in this context, it perhaps seems that Google is ahead of Apple’s learning curve with regards to where wearable technology needs to go. Their product is based on a head-mounted camera, while Apple’s is (rumored to be) little more than a collection of wrist-ready fitness and environment/GPS sensors. Of course, nobody really knows how far Apple is willing to go with the iWatch; the thing could very well serve as a sort of central media hub, handling data throughput from any number of external sensors (including, say, a nice HD lapel camera). Also, don’t forget that Apple still owns the industry when it comes to consumer cost of entry, and Tim Cook, for all his “questionable” non-Jobsian ideals, is an unrivaled supply chain wizard. If anyone can get important new products priced right, it’s him.
There’s also another angle to wearables that most people fail to consider, and it’s right in line with the so-far unpersuasive value proposition of existing products: the service provider status quo.
Consider: The reason our expensive smartphones are generally affordable is because of carrier subsidies that exist to make the products — and their requisite services — more agreeable upfront. This business model is aggressively ingrained in the United States, and any disruptions to the established channels are usually subdued and snuffed out with prejudice. Luckily, that’s the best part about this specific equation: If the wearables movement is to address the utility discussed herein, the cellular market’s closely-held service infrastructure needn’t be disturbed at all. This is because, for wearables to be effective at their livestreaming (lifestreaming?) functions, they will need a reasonably robust dedicated data connection. After all, recording an injustice, regardless of the parties involved, is utterly moot if the bad guy gets to your recording device before you can save the footage offsite. Similarly, recording a grind down a rail or a launch off some epic BMX ramp is utterly moot if the ground gets to your recording device before you can save the footage offsite. Live uploads to reliable custom or commercial servers are a prerequisite for this sort of thing to have any functional foothold for the law-enforcement officer or the law-abiding citizen or the recreational adventurer, and our existing mobile carriers are the entities best suited to provide exactly this kind of service. They’d have skin in the game, and that just might save your skin, especially in the pocketbook.
If most of this seems based upon the ideas — or, more aptly, the fears — of law enforcement abuses and civil rights violations, that’s merely a symptom of the catalyzing force. LEOs are, at the end of the day, just ordinary people, and wearable technology would keep the crooked ones more honest. Like most folks, most police are upstanding citizens. But many are corruptible, if even just once in the heat of the moment. For those that believe their badge gives them power, a wearable, always-on camera would serve to check that power so that these officers might better serve you and me.
But wearable technology of this kind isn’t limited to some us-versus-them challenge to overreaching authority. It has its place in almost every facet of everything we do. Press a button to upload the last 30 seconds to your iCloud account? I can’t tell you how many article ideas and comic outlines and one-liners and forever disassembled electronic components and smiles and sunsets I’d have saved over the years if I’d had something like that at my immediate disposal. The applications are endless to our public lives. And to our private lives, too.
But what about those private lives?
This will undoubtedly be the chief consideration holding back the adoption of any pervasive consumer recording technology, particularly any tech with the clip-on ease-of-use of the aforementioned wearables. Unfortunately, in the wake of the ever-growing, continually unchecked invasions of American and international privacy spearheaded by our own NSA over the last decade, I may be a bit too cynical to effectively argue this important issue one way or the other.
My musings here are limited to this: For me personally, wearables would seem to be inherently governed by the same rules we take for granted when it comes smartphone cameras, webcams, video recorders, microphones, etc. We each have — and would presumably continue to have — the same expectations of privacy in our private homes and on our private lands. Others may righfully champion the cause that our individual rights to privacy extend into the public square, but I’ve got plenty of reservations about the pragmatic legitimacy of that notion, especially today. So I live accordingly: When I step out among people, I’m an open book.
Wearables would simply make my chapters more comprehensive and entertaining, and they might just keep the story from ending on a sour note.
I’d rather be a comedy than a tragedy.