Criticism

May 30, 2013

I started reading an article by Dustin Curtis this morning. He discusses criticisms about Google Glass and the “fundamental” challenges ambient computing devices face. Dustin makes some great points in the article and I recommend you read it.

There is something about recent criticism that has gotten under my skin. The internet has made everyone a critic and we have very little to show for it. (The irony of my criticism is not lost on me here.)

I went to college to study theatre. Criticism is in my blood. I can give it (well) and I can take it (slightly less well). But the internet has shifted the balance of criticism to a simple binary choice: you have exceeded all expectations or you are discardable.

The iPhone tackled something that could have failed so spectacularly. It defined a new class of device, a new class of user interaction. It was beautiful, but flawed. It was flawed, but forgiven.

But sometime after the iPhone, everything changed. I’m not sure what about the iPhone allowed it to be so forgiven given it’s obvious initial flaws. People hated its slower internet, its carrier lock-in, and its lack of a physical keyboard. But, despite all these flaws, the iPhone succeeded brilliantly.

My fear for the future isn’t that we won’t have jet packs or awesome self-driving cars. It’s that people are going to be less likely to try things and fail spectacularly at them. It’s that college students won’t try to do something laughable and potentially laudable. This isn’t fetishism about failing. It’s about following a path to the very end, regrouping, and finding an entirely new path to continue on.

Strong criticism drives us towards exceptional work. Journalists and critics have an important place in our culture. But criticism needs to drive more questions like “where can we go from here” instead of “why did we end up at our destination”.

The early reviews of Google Glass show a far less than perfect product but I’m excited to see the consequences of them launching it. Google is spearheading legal issues, usability patterns, wearable industrial design, and a whole host of other interesting, complicated problems. While our wearable ambient computing savior may not come from Google, I’m happy they decided to try to tackle this problem.

Google Glass may not be the answer. The answer may lie down another path whose trailhead is only visible now that we’ve made it this far.