Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hands-free Books Are Coming

Credit: Google/Screenshot by me
My friend and colleague Sharon Vaknin recently received word that she is one of the lucky winners of the Google Glass Explorers program, and will soon be able to test out this futuristic device called Google Glass for herself.

What is Google Glass? It's part screen, part camera, part enhanced reality, part translater, part voice assistant, part whatever in the heck we're going to dream up for it to do next. This video shows some of the possibilities. It's not hard to imagine a world where we soon won't have to remember each other's names because our Google Glass will tell us based on facial recognition.

Sharon and I got to chatting about our Google Glass future, and something dawned on me: Hands-free books are coming. The screen will be in front of our eyes. We'll blink to or wave our hands or just think about the page turning or it will just know somehow and it will turn.

And let me tell you this: I, for one, welcome our coming hands-free-books overlords.

Yes yes, the turning of the pages. Yes, the tactile experience of holding something in your hands as you're reading.

Me? I'll be sprawled out on a hammock or easily riding a subway or sweeping my floors or tripping over the sidewalks trying to read and walk down the street. Who knows! I just know I'll be able to read more if I don't have to have something in my hands to do it.

I haven't had a chance to try Google Glass, and from the video it looked like the screen was a bit small for long-form reading. I haven't seen books as a part of its future concepts. This is still in firmly in the hypothetical phase.

But some form of ever-present hands-free screen is coming. It's going to change our lives. And it's just a few steps away from books being beamed directly to our brains.

Count me in. What about you?


birdinabowler said...

Sounds exciting! Though I think I'd draw the line at books being downloaded directly to my brain. It sounds too overwhelming to have sudden knowledge there without a chance to digest it. And receiving the denouement at the same time as the hook? How boring!

kdrausin said...

Very cool!

Lisa Shafer said...

Yup. And then people will try to use this while driving. Just wait. You know it's going to happen.

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

I can see a device that tracks eye movement to know when you're at the end of the page being helpful (sort of a super Kindle), but I am not sure Google Glass is where books will end up. The joy of reading is is ignoring your surroundings and immersing yourself in a different time and place. Google Glass seems to be designed to integrate the virtual screen with the real world.

Sheridan said...

I love the idea of Google Glass. Just imagine trying to do some activity you've never tried before, and getting to preview it from a first-person point of view. There was a study done where a person imagined skiing the day before trying it for the first time, and the researchers discovered that preparing by imagining yourself in that situation improved performance.
And I'm definitely all over that facial recognition idea... I'm atrocious at remembering names!
Of course... there are the privacy issues. Right now, you can see someone holding their cell phone and recording you... imagine how much more difficult it will be to know your true audience if everyone was wearing Google Glass!

Tiefsa said...

I'm not in. Have you ever read "Feed" Were only one step away!!!

120Pages said...

I can't decide if this is something I'd enjoy or not (I think it would definitely have its uses, just not sure how many of them I'd integrate into my everyday life). But I also can't deny the incredible technology. I am utterly blown away by where the technological world is today. Truly amazing!!

And, is it wrong that I kept thinking about Iron Man asking Jarvis for assistance? ;-)

Josin L. McQuein said...

Actually, the screen looks fairly proportional to the height of the iris/eye, so it won't look small at a close range. The only problem I'd have with it is the readability of the text. I can't read well on back lit screens, so I'd have to see one in action.

But I have to agree those who've said that this device seems like a first generation disaster waiting to happen with drivers and such. It's too easy to integrate things like this to the point that you forget you've got them on your face. the potential driving (even walking) hazard needs to be addressed before it hits the market.

Elissa M said...

Wow. As if our brains haven't atrophied enough already. No, thank you. I'll continue to use my wet-ware as long as I physically can.

Yes, Einstein didn't know his own phone number because he didn't want to waste his cognitive abilities on something he could look up. He used his brain a lot more than the average person, though. If we rely too much on our gadgets, one day we won't be able to function without them.

Nancy Kelley said...

"Books. People never really stop loving books. Fifty-first century. By now you've got holovids, direct-to-brain downloads, fiction mist. But you need the smell. The smell of books, Donna. Deep breath!"
~Doctor Who, "Silence in the Library"

I am just now coming to a place where I like ebooks almost as well as paper books. I certainly like the convenience of them, and the ease of buying them. I'm still not too keen on the inability to flip through to other parts of the book. I like to jump around while reading, and ebooks make that harder.

Reading on Google Glass might be interesting, but I draw the line at direct-to-brain downloads. I'm not even comfortable with turning the page with just a thought. Leave my brain alone, please.

Beverly Diehl said...

I think it sounds awesome. Reading while on a treadmill or exercise bike would be SO much easier. Reading in the bathtub!

And think about an assembly or repair manual in the glass while you have your hands free to work on whatever it is.

I'm sold.

Deborah Halverson said...

I remember dreaming of inventing this very kind of reading device when I was a little girl trying to walk to school and read at the same time. That said, I simply cannot see a world where more than the rare bird will walk around in public with one of these on. Perhaps for home use...

Anonymous said...

Considering how our current digital world is beset by viruses, errors, denial of service problems, spam, screens freezing for no good reason, software incompatibility, and so on ... I'm not eager to transport all those hassles to the world of books.

Magdalena Munro said...

After watching the Untouchables recently I can only imagine how exciting this would be for someone that is paralyzed from the neck down.

London Crockett said...

I feel like a curmudgeon for writing skeptically about the future of ePublishing and now this. However, for all the gee-wiz cool factor, the potential negatives seem overwhelming. Even the seemingly harmless activity of sitting in your hammock Glass reading sounds to me like a serious long-term vision destroyer.

I'll be curious to learn what the actual experience of early adopters is…and harboring a morbid curiosity about what the first Glass fatality will entail. Car? Pedestrian? Something truly unexpected, like falling off a bridge?

wendy said...


I'm sorry, Nathan, but...I don't....understand this concept.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Ah. Here we differ, I'm afraid, Nathan.

While the technology will certainly make either possible--hands-free reading or beaming into our brains--we are fast reaching that point in the conundrum noted by Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park: "just because they (scientists) could...doesn't mean they should."

Nature has a funny way of evolving. Will peoples' ability to see the world change? And how would a page turn with a blink? I sometimes blink unconsciously, and whoops! Darn.

I'm sure people will buy them. And I'm sure it'll be a fad. Everyone will be walking around like Jordi from Star Trek: The Next Generation (a television series based on the original television series, after a few movies but before the latest movies, kids).

But practical? Replace the ability to read at your leisure, or choose NOT to? To fall asleep reading, and wake up in the hammock to the sound of birds, the scent of lilacs and the warm sun on your eyelids? I hope not.

You may have noticed, now that you're here, how difficult it is to walk around the wide streets of Manhattan with so many peoples' heads down looking at their phones. Imagine when they're apparently aware of what/who is in front of them, but concentrating on reading?

If you would have told me 15 years ago that EVERYONE would communicate via email, and from their phones, and be able to search the internet with pocket computers that were not only phones but cameras, I would have probably reacted the same way.

It's true. I'm sure they're coming. And they might replace even ereaders for a whole bunch of people too busy or with too many things on their minds to actually carry words around in their hand.

But at the risk of sounding like the Luddite I probably truly am, I hope it doesn't come soon, or if it does, that people will come to realize just because it can be done--it doesn't mean it should be done.



Lance Blair said...

Google glass is going to be a wonderful tool for technical applications - doctors, first responders, engineers...they can all make great use of it.

Glass only covers your right eye and displays information in the upper right corner of your field of vision. I think that makes it useless for reading long-format text. From what I've seen from the demo videos, I'd never use Glass to read.

Rebekkah Niles said...

I would want those. Maybe in future versions, you could expand the text temporarily to cover most of your vision for easier long-text reading. (Also, I have a mental image of a fight scene where "attack them from the upper-right: their Google Glass info makes that a blind spot" kicks in. Worth it for the scene potential alone, right?)

Anonymous said...

I love it! But it's going to make people who haven't switched to "old-fashioned" e-readers with e-ink even more confused :)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if instrumental musicians may become major consumers of this technology once it is mature. Being able to devote one's hands to the instrument rather than to page turning strikes me as a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait. I will use GG to keep track of all my passwords.

erusson said...

All I can think about is the headaches.

Kentish Janner said...

"It's not hard to imagine a world where we soon won't have to remember each other's names because our Google Glass will tell us based on facial recognition."

...i.e. 'we're all going to turn into idiots?'

That doesn't sound much like progress to me!

I predict millions of people walking into inanimate objects several times a day 'cause they're too busy staring at whatever's in their Google Glass. (And don't say it couldn't happen; my dad once had to call an ambulance for a young girl who gave herself concussion and a broken nose because she was too busy texting to notice the chuffin' great brick wall she smacked into!)

Nathan Bransford said...


Isn't this just a more convenient version of a rolodex? Did rolodexes turn us into idiots because we didn't have to memorize everyone's phone numbers?

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