The future may or may not be here – William Gibson, Google Glass, and wearable computing (Fitbit One review)

William Gibson wearing Google Glass. I’m not sure if this specifically is the future, but something like this is coming to a future near you.


If you look at this year’s CES, wearable computing is possibly the biggest trend of 2013. I thought I’d try some of this recently, to see if it affected my behaviour, so I got myself a Fitbit One (Fitbit One UK/Euro link, Fitbit One US link). In essence, it’s a really fancy pedometer. That’s it. But it’s more – it’s linked to a website so I can see my stats online… But the website is linked back, so if I tell the website I’ve been cycling for twenty minutes, the Fitbit on my waistband updates my calories burnt for that day. That’s quite neat. But there’s also an app on my phone, where it’s easy to add in the food that I’m eating, or the water that I’m drinking (and the alcohol I’m drinking), and it only takes a moment.


This mean that every day, at any time, I can check to see how many calories I have burnt that day, and how many I have put into my body.


Does this, by itself, make me more fit? Of course not. But, when I look down at my waist and see that I have climbed 23 flights of stairs that day, does it make me want to climb a couple more (because 25 is a nice round number)? Yes, it absolutely does. I’ve been using the Fitbit for around a month and I’ve lost about 5lbs (1.5kg). I’ve not been able to shift weight for years, but this feels easy. That is actually incredible to me: a tiny chip on my waist and a bit of networking has made me become more conscious of my health and improved my life.


A few days ago I looked at my waist and saw I had climbed 37 flights of stairs… Well. That’s close to 50 isn’t it? I put a TED talk on my mobile phone, and walked up and down the stairs in my house while I listened to an inspirational talk about technology.


… But when I reached 50 for that day, the talk hadn’t finished, so I kept on walking. But then when the talk did finish, I wasn’t at a nice round number on the Fitbit One anymore, so I put on another talk…


And so, that day, I ended up walking up 100 flights of stairs. This is something I would never normally have done before I got the Fitbit, and the strange thing is that it feels so unconciously natural now. Of course I want to improve my stats: it’s like a real world RPG where I need to grind a little to get to the next level.


I called this post a Fitbit One review, it is (you should get one, it’s fantastic and it has helped me shift stubborn weight in a way that nothing else has, and without any big changes in my life), but it’s also about the future. We see William Gibson, the man who changed the language of the future when he wrote about cyberspace in his short stories and novels in the 1980s (Neuromancer UK, Neuromancer US), and we see him putting on Google Glass, and the strangeness of the present comes crashing home. When he started writing, the idea of a universally accessible data resource was pure fantasy, and how he can have it in his glasses.


Is William Gibson the future? I think he would be the first person to say that the future will now be shaped by people we have never heard of yet, but he is an icon of progress into this weird thing we call modern life.


Google is an icon too, and nothing feels more like the future than what they are doing to us. I’m fairly sure that this version of Google Glass will not be the same form that we are using in a decade, but it seems inevitable that it will be something like it, or like this, or possibly (hopefully) this, or like something we haven’t imagined yet.


When it comes it will feel so obvious and so natural that we will wonder why no-one ever did it before.


Seeing Gibson and Google together is a taste of things to come. Even that phrase ‘things to come’ sounds like the 1950s ray-guns-and-rocket-ships kind of science fiction. We don’t have the language for the current-future yet, but it is here already, quietly walking into our lives in small ways.

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