April 7, 2013

Motherlode: Google Glass – maybe best in the hands of a kid

By KJ Dell'Antonia

Would you buy Google Glass? How about a 3-D printer? I would (and, in the case of the 3-D printer, I have). Of course, I'm a sucker for being an earlier adopter, and the first to get my hands on new things.

I'd be tinkering with this stuff even if I wasn't a parent – but my children give me an excuse to indulge in my (expensive) hobby. I want to expose them to new technologies while they're still new, and before we've had a chance to figure out how they fit into our lives.

My father brought home one of the first desktop computers, one of the first printers, an early microwave, even a prototype Mac (he was an IT guy). I learned to type on a typewriter, but I never wrote a paper at home without some form of word processor, which means that I lost many a great work of elementary and middle-school scholarship to various software explosions, power failures and a whole host of user errors.

I can still remember the whole family clustered around an Osborne 1 and an Epson printer, trying to transfer text from Wordstar to the page. I learned that you wrestle with new things to get them to do what you want, and that sometimes, the whole payoff is nothing more than the satisfaction of watching your BASIC program execute onscreen.

I want my children to explore new technologies the way I did – while they're glitchy and frustrating and full of unrealized potential. Everything works more smoothly now than with those first computers, but when a gadget is new, there's still room to grow.

That's the only reason I can think of to invest in Google Glass (other than just for fun) – the hope that by jumping in early, I'd encourage innovation in my kids. Streaming video and map applications are far from the limits of such a powerful computer in such a small form (and they're not likely to be super-effective in the mountains of New Hampshire, where connectivity is dubious and mapped roads often appear in the real world as impassable stagecoach trails).

But I have trouble imagining what else it will do without holding one in my hand, and maybe I'll always have trouble. Maybe it takes an excited 11-year-old (mine has already offered his entire savings, money he'd previously intended to put towards an iPad mini, to the cause) to see the potential, and find a way to act on it. He's already far surpassed me on the 3-D design software we're both learning to use, even if I'm the one who troubleshoots the machine, and even if, to be honest, we still haven't figured out exactly what we're going to do with that relatively new addition to the household, either.

I know many people would see better uses for $1,500 than Google Glass (and many more couldn't afford it). I haven't ponied up for Glass. Yet. (In fact, it's not available yet, and even purchasing the first version requires a nod from the company and that significant sum.) But my children know my weakness; they're lobbying hard; and they're right. I'm far more tempted by Glass than I would be by any other indulgence out there.

So here's my question: if you had Glass – and if you had children – what would you and those kids really do with that tool?

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

kj.dellantonia@nytimes.com

 

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