In 2013, Google cofounder Sergey Brin questioned the ubiquity of smartphones and stated that they were “emasculating.” “Is this the way you’re meant to interact with other people?” he asked a TED conference. “Is the future of connection just people walking around hunched up, looking down, rubbing a featureless piece of glass?” he continued.
While his critique was meant to help promote Google Glass—a technology that would ultimately go down as one of the tech behemoth’s biggest failures, he has a valid point. MIT professor Sherry Turkle has observed that smartphones are killing face-to-face conversation. And smartphone users who text while behind the wheel can put themselves and others at risk.
For all of their conveniences, smartphones can also isolate. To the extent that they draw a user into a user experience, they shut out the rest of the world. Part of the problem is the screen as a portal for a user experience. Even if you have a mega-sized smartphone, they are still measured in inches. That’s part of the reason users “hunch up” when looking them, to paraphrase Sergey Brin.
But it remains to be seen whether traditional screens (or monitors) will eventually become passé—or at least less pervasive. The latter possibility seems likely in the next few years as a spate of new non-traditional display technologies emerge—although judging by the fate of first iteration of Google Glass, dethroning the smartphone user interface is no easy feat.
The car windshield itself is poised to become a display interface—perhaps even showing digital billboards to passengers with the car. Both VR and AR technology continue to gain ground, but both are still niche technologies. Perhaps smart glasses or smart contact lenses will ultimately become popular technologies—at least for industrial and clinical applications. And then there is the company DAQRI, which is working on embedding AR technology into the traditional hard hat.
Another possibility is that voice-based virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa will help gradually wean society from its smartphones.