Whether de rigueur or merely an occupational hazard, a love of technological gadgets is commonplace in computing. We know the endorphin-fueled euphoria of an early adopter, one willing to tolerate the failings of immature and possibly transient technologies.
Oh, how I loved my RIM 870, which made me a two-thumbed typist and allowed me to send email on the DataTAC network, long before the word BlackBerry conjured any vision other than breakfast jam! I wore a Microsoft SenseCam, learning that email, coffee, and meetings defined my life.
My desk and closet are filled with "might have been" and "never were" technological artifacts. From a sub-compact Poqet PC through an Apple Newton PDA to Ricochet network cards to a collection of bulky, CGA-based head-mounted displays (HMDs), I have played with my share of bright, shiny toys. Today, Google Glass shines oh, so bright, with technological promise and cultural uncertainty.
All of which reminds me of the first time I pulled out an early Motorola cellphone in an airport terminal, after an airline canceled one of my flights. This was in the early days of AMPS service, when mobile telephones were large and bulky and roaming service had yet to appear. As I called my office to rebook travel, a group of businesspeople gathered around me in wonder at this amazing and heretofore unknown technology. Years later, I was reflecting on the societal transformation wrought by mobile telephony as I listened to a middle manager obliviously pace an airport concourse while systematically firing the unsuspecting members of some company team via cellphone. In ictu oculi, sic transit gloria mundi!
I have been wearing Google Glass (hereafter, Glass) intermittently as both a technical assessment of utility and as a social study in human dynamics and expectations. What does the future hold? Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. Attribute the quote to whomever you choose—Yogi Berra, Niels Bohr, or Mark Twain—its veracity remains.
My first impressions of Glass were generally positive, but I expected that; I have decades of Pavlovian conditioning to embrace technology prototypes with joyful abandon. Software configuration took most of an afternoon, as I connected my social networks to Glass and configured news feeds to balance timeliness and frequency, lest breaking news of the underwater basket-weaving championship interrupt my reflections on the dismal state of research funding. Not surprisingly, these networks were heavily Google-centric, though I found the inability to send images to an arbitrary email address somewhat limiting. Ok, Glass, take a picture ...
Because I am sufficiently myopic that escaping a broom closet is visually challenging, I wondered if it would be practical to wear Glass in front of my normal glasses, rather than fitting it to the custom Glass frames. Pleasantly, the answer is yes, if one carefully adjusts the prism. The screen is relatively bright and unobtrusive, and the head tilt adjustment angle simplifies screen activation and menu selection.
Is Glass a substitute for a smartphone? No, but it is not intended as such. Rather, it is a social and technical experiment in digital immersion and social commerce, from instant context sharing to walkabout video conferencing. In all of those things, it succeeds.
Far more interesting than the technical features of Glass have been the social reactions it has engendered. When I am in a private setting, I always inform people that I will not take photos or record video using Glass without permission. I also invite people to wear Glass and experience it for a few minutes to allay fears. In public, I use Glass with great care, with as much deliberation and clarity I would use with a camera or smartphone.
The sometimes-visceral reactions to the public use of Glass are rooted in deep social concerns about privacy and cultural norms, themselves shaped by the broader worries about government surveillance, data breaches, and identity theft. Glass also occupies something of an uncanny valley of privacy, arousing primal fears that the sanctity of one's sensorium is being violated. The negative reactions have also been fueled by the annoying and sometimes foolish behavior of some Glass users. (See Google Glass "dos and don'ts," or how to avoid being a Glasshole, at http://bit.ly/1pMS15g.)
Each new technical change brings social and legal debates regarding acceptable use, debates made more pressing and contentious by the increasing rate of change. In the U.S., we are still defining the bounds of the First Amendment on the right to take photographs in a public place, despite over 150 years of photographic technology experience and an abundance of case law.
One of the creators of mobile telephony once remarked to me he was still surprised to see individuals speaking into thin air about intensely personal topics. That dystopian science fiction writer, Phillip K. Dick, favored the ancient line, "For now we see through a glass, darkly ..." I could wax on at length in a metaphorical and epistemological exegesis of this prescient juxtaposition of technology, privacy, and the nature of change, but a heads-up news feed on Glass has captured my attention.
It is not surprising we are struggling to delineate the bounds of privacy and normative behavior in an age of ubiquitous digital devices. Some acceptable and normative issues of wearable technology will be decided by law, some by social consensus, and still others by concurrent technological evolution and generational acceptance. In the meantime, good sense should be applied liberally.
Despite all the uncertainties, I remain an optimist. Ok, Glass, send a message to the future ...
It is that time of year again. All across the country, computer science faculty members are preparing to submit their grant proposals. This means they are also sending requests to CSTA for involvement in their grants and for letters of support to accompany their grant proposals.
CSTA receives so many requests for grant project involvement and letters of support that we had to set up a protocol (http://bit.ly/1ecGl4J) to deal with them all. The protocol defines three different kinds of CSTA engagement:
Each of these is defined and, although each involves a different process for making the request, the CSTA Executive Committee uses the same criteria to evaluate every request. These are:
These may seem like a lot of requirements for a letter of support, but this is the only way to ensure CSTA recommends only those projects worthy of the support of our 16,000 members, and that we use our resources, including our reputation, to support those institutions that, in turn, support CSTA and its members.
It is not surprising the most important factor in CSTA's involvement in national, regional, and local computer science education projects is the success of the CSTA regional chapters program. Thanks especially to the work of CSTA chapter liaison Fran Trees, there are now more than 53 CSTA chapters in the U.S. and Canada, and more are added each month.
Many of these chapters play a direct role in several very large grants from the National Science Foundation's CE21 grants program. They serve not just as peer-to-peer professional learning communities, but as centers for innovation, professional development, and advocacy. The chapters are also hothouses of CSTA's blossoming leadership programs and exemplars of mutually supportive relationships between K–12 educators and post-secondary faculty.
Over the years, it has become easier to understand why chapters prove so attractive to faculty members looking for grant partners. The chapters provide a direct link to teachers and students. They are a place where the ingenuity of research can meet the realities of classroom practice. The CSTA chapters provide an invaluable meeting of the minds for computer science educators of all levels.
Since their inception, the chapters have also been perceived as providing an invaluable link between K–12 computer science educators and post-secondary mentors. At SIGCSE, I learned CSTA's chapters are increasingly seen as an important resource for post-secondary faculty who are similarly in need of mentoring. As Dale Reed from the University of Illinois Chicago noted, "As computer science faculty in universities, we know a lot about computer science, but many of us have had absolutely no training in teaching. Being part of a CSTA chapter gives us access to people who can help us learn to be better teachers." As is true in the best cases, mentoring goes in both directions.
If you would like to be more involved in a CSTA chapter, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will introduce you to a wonderful community of practice.
©2014 ACM 0001-0782/14/06
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