That contingent of Trekkies and Dr. Who Companions who account for a sizable proportion of the technical communications community surely must be in paradise at the thought of Google Glass and Apple iWatch going into production this year. We’re a geeky lot of futurists who have made a living explaining geeky to other people, and who look forward to talking about iPhones and Nexus tablets as “so passé.” The early-adopting consumer aspect notwithstanding, wearable computers could change everything about how we work as well as play. Or maybe not. That’s what this week’s technical communication poll aims to find out.
When wearable computers grab the attention of Forbes Investing columnist Christopher Versace, it seems as if there might be something to it. “There has been no shortage of Internet chatter over a potential watch design from Apple dubbed the iWatch. Samsung has has confirmed that it is working on a smartwatch and the Pebble smartwatch is already in the market place. … The other new hardware design that is getting attention is glasses and for this we can thank Google (GOOG) and Google Glass. Now Google Glass differs somewhat from a smartphone in that it’s a new attempt to make wearable computing mainstream.”
As for the impending reality of the Star Trek computer in every household, Google has publicly committed to that vision of the future of search. “Google has a single towering obsession: It wants to build the Star Trek computer,” says Farhad Manjoo in his April 11 piece in Slate. Manjoo goes into detail about how Google Voice Search and its Knowledge Graph initiative are part of this obsession. Combine these with Google Glass and you have a wearable computer that can see, hear and predict what you want before you’ve even asked a question. So will wearable computers change tech comm?
Wikipedia describes wearable computing as featuring “a constant interaction between the computer and user.” Whether it’s on your wrist, or wrapped around your head, wearable computers represent massive technology changes, which of course need to be described, scoped, tested and so forth. That’s the heart of what technical communicators do. But does it mean we change how we approach the tasks inherent in tech comm? The need for clear, concise technical content will always be here. Writing specs is writing specs. So is developing user assistance or writing a good FAQ… right? Or is constant interaction a true paradigm shift in how we approach designing, creating and delivering content? If technical communicators are integral to designing and managing the user experience, will the lines between customer support, product design and tech comm continue to blur?
Before 1984, very few people outside of the halls of research even knew what a computer mouse was. Today we have a whole set of terms around manipulating the computer interface precisely because of the mouse, and now the smart device. So while this question requests a pretty simple yes/no response, we want to start a conversation about it. After you vote (or before if you’d like, we’re flexible about the sequence), take a few minutes to explain why you voted the way you did, either in the comment section below, or on a thread on the email discussion list. If wearable computers won’t really change technical communications, why not? On the other hand, if it really does change everything, what are some of the ways we’ll see our profession change? In coming weeks, we’d love to use your commentary to investigate some new perspectives on tech comm, customer experience and content management. We invite you to share the poll with your social networks, and to join the conversation.