Googling up your shoes

When does technology cross the line from something that complements the things that you enjoy doing and start to become invasive? Well, it seems like Google may be researching things on both sides of that line, with technology for your head and your feet.

Over the last year, we’ve heard a lot about Google Glass. Glass is a heads-up display that you wear like a pair of sunglasses, but instead of a pair of tinted lenses, there’s only one “lens”, and it’s just a smallish near-transparent display located in front of your right eye. The right-hand temple of the “glasses” comes with a mounted enclosure that includes a front-facing camera, as well as the electronics necessary to link Glass to your Android phone.

Glass is controlled (to a large extent) through voice. For example, you would issue a command to start recording what your camera is seeing, or ask it a question that Google can find the answer for. Your Android phone will do the hard work and then push the results (whether that be a little video recording window or an answer to your search query) to the little eyepiece sitting in front of your right eye.

It’s pretty easy to see the potential benefits of something like this – walking directions to unfamiliar destination piped right into your eyepiece, for one possibility, or immediately starting a recording when your child takes his or her first steps. But there’s also the potential for serious creepiness – for instance, people would always be wondering if you’re recording them with your third camera eye, or be concerned that you’re looking up information on them while you’re talking to them.

It’s certainly possible that people who wear their Google Glass appliance everywhere will be treated in much the same way as people who keep their Bluetooth headset firmly in their ear while they’re away: with a certainly level of wariness or even disdain. In that case, it becomes an academic problem until the devices become so discrete you can’t tell people are wearing them…you just head the other direction when you see someone wearing a Glass headset, or you only patronize businesses that (like this Seattle cafe) have banned them.

A bit stranger is something that seems to have emerged during this year’s South by Southwest: Google Shoes.

While this isn’t an actual product so much as a proof of concept, created in collaboration with a third party, it does have some future implications.

Ostensibly a shoe that connects to your Android phone, it’s not quite the same thing as Nike+, another shoe-to-smartphone connection technology.

While this new concept does, indeed, have the ability to monitor your movement using accelerometers, it also seems to be able to post your activity levels to your social networks (providing a bit of shaming effect), or to trash talk you or your court opponents through a speaker mounted on the tongue of the right shoe.

Let’s leave aside for a second the inherent strangeness of your shoe yelling at you about how boring it is to be sitting in one place. But having your shoe shaming you on the Internet for sitting down for a few minutes…? While I suppose it could be looked at as a way to keep you motivated, in much the same way as an alarm clock that alerts all of your Facebook friends every time you hit the snooze button first thing in the morning. If you know you’re going to be publicly shamed, you may be less likely to indulge in being lazy.

On the other hand, it does seem to cross some line about what type of information needs to be be broadcast to the general public. Does the whole world need to know that you’re a useless wad of inaction first thing in the morning? And really, won’t you be likely to have friends that know that already, and probably don’t care how many times you hit the snooze button? Anyhow, it’s probably safe to say that….er, hold on.

Whoops, gotta go, guys. My shirt just tweeted at me that it’s getting too stinky in the hamper. Time to do the laundry before my pants chime in.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers is a freelance writer, video producer and host based in Toronto, Canada. Most recently, he was a Senior Producer at, where he was responsible for the conception, writing, production and editing of a number of web video shows, including Lab Rats, How Do I?, Status Update, The Noob, and more.

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