AK Ingenue: One Step Further Away
As I gaze out the window at snow-capped mountain-ringed Prince William Sound, the impending debut of Google’s sci-fi glasses gives rise to conflicting reactions: James Bond cool vs. obnoxious, handy vs. intrusive, useful vs. detrimental. The “glasses” set to debut later this year stream a steady flow of info – inputs and your responses to them – in front of your eyes essentially acting like a nosy personal assistant on your shoulder or, quite literally, in your face in this case. Check out the Mashable post and watch the short video to better and quickly understand this new sci-fi technology.
The glasses have a certain Jetsons vibe to them but I worry that as all the little pop-ups and messages flash in front of my face I may bump into more things – people good, light poles bad. Will I love them so much I never want to take them off – cool if they could record dreams, though that’s undoubtedly a long way off. Will all the input just turn into annoying foreground noise? People are already abusive enough with cell phones, answering calls and texting at restaurants or other face-to-face meetings, how much more distracted will they become with glasses that turn up the volume on our already always-on multitasking society? Will such glasses improve my life or just distance me even further from real life connections to people, surroundings, happy coincidences and chance encounters. Undoubtedly more useful in urban settings, would they be of any use or would I even want them if I was in the middle of nowhere or the end of the road in an outpost like Valdez.
Can they smell the roses?
Whether in some far flung corner of the world, here in Valdez, or deep in a national park closer to home in the Lower 48, any place where the raw environment demands undivided attention, the senses become re-connected and recharged. It is liberating and humbling to re-focus on the rhythms, mysteries and instincts that most of we residents of First World nations have long since forgotten yet peoples of Third World countries are often so much more intimately knowledgable. Living in harsh or extremely fragile environments, as well as more privileged pursuits like blue water sailing, climbing unnamed peaks, or backpacking deep into the wilderness, heightens awareness of the signals around you and can profoundly change your priorities.
Here in southeast Alaska, if the storm is coming from the Bering Sea it will be an entirely different experience than if it’s coming up the Pineapple Express from Hawaii or any other directions. The clouds, wind direction and temperature changes all offer clues to what’s in store. Internet technology and color-coded satellite imagery grant access to dozens of weather cams to help estimate the expected arrival and intensity of the approaching storm.
People in more remote places as well as folks like farmers who are more rooted to the earth are more keenly attune to whether the harbingers of seasonal change are earlier or later than usual – the annual fall rut, the return of the robins, the sprouting of crocuses, changing of the leaves - and other hints on what’s in store for the coming season.
The courses and livelihoods of sailors and fishermen are intrinsically tied too other ocean factor like tides, currents and the life cycles and migration habits of various species of fish and sea mammals. Though modern telemetry and GPS takes a lot of the guesswork out of navigation at sea, the best mariners as well as airmen can, when the electronics fritz out or fail as electronics invariably do, rely on good old-fashioned celestial navigation like their predecessors from long ago times.
Here at the intersection of small town America and impossibly vast stretches of wilderness I have become keenly aware that I and my fellow humans are decidedly not at the top of, but rather part of, the food chain, a Scooby snack for needs-driven predators with no conscience or discrimination between the different options for fresh meat on the hoof. On the way back from our ski tour above the Shoup Glacier the other day, we spotted fresh bear tracks following the skin track we’d put in a couple short hours earlier. We scanned the terrain around us. Maybe the bear was waiting for us at the cabin or perhaps licking its lips while watching from a lair we couldn’t see.
A few short days after arriving, the Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights, put on a spectacular display though sadly, I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the vicinity who missed it. The next day, a friend turned me onto the Aurora Forecast app that helps predict the arrival of the ethereal light show and while the forecast was good I still missed it, though not for lack of getting up every few hours and stepping outside to try to catch it. Technology has never been an antidote to bad timing or luck.
Improvisation, creativity and resourcefulness are valued traits and even key to survival for anything from car and home repairs to cooking, clothing and even those times, more prevalent than in the Lower 48, when even the most innocuous outing turns suddenly and unexpectedly desperate.
In places like this, ignoring your gut instinct can cost you your life.
So where do Google goggles and other such tech in the pipeline fit into the big picture? Though not their intended target market, would or could Google goggles be of any use to less technologically conjoined communities like indigenous tribes in the Amazon, a drought-stricken family on the brink of existence in sub-Sahara Africa or a nomadic herder on the Mongolian steppe? As mom and solo traveler Darcey wrote: ”My time on the steppe gave me a feeling of freedom that was unusual and healing. The girl in me who still lives with the upturned cardboard box as an end table doubly appreciated that freedom . . . In Mongolia, I found everything I sought for myself: peace, quiet, stunning beauty, and a way of life that persists doggedly in the modern world, despite an increasingly vulnerable environment.”
I’m sure the goggles will sell well and be embraced by urban hipsters and high rollers. Such products will likely increasingly become an intrinsic part of daily life, especially once future iterations make them smaller and less obtrusive. Wistfully, I would argue that Google goggles are yet another gadget taking us yet another step further from primal connections to people, animals, and all the natural drama, force and beauty of nature that are already available to us if we just make space to tune into them by filtering out some of the modern noise we’ve collectively come to accept as essential to our lives but really isn’t. For that, I guess we still will have to have the self-discipline to unplug, turn off the electronics from time to time and get out there and, in a manner of speaking, run naked and connect with the wild again. Even less poetically, how many happy coincidences and chance encounters will we miss out on by being guided by our goggles.
Ultimately, as Forbes noted in their tongue and cheek pro/con review about how Google goggles will and won’t revolutionize life, love or hate them, there’s no turning back; the future is only a matter of time.
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