Note — Sep 01, 2019

Always in, Wireless Headphones Are Augmented Reality Devices

Seen in → No.92

Source →

Drew Austin on AirPods, how they are becoming more and more an item worn constantly, not just when listening to music. How, as more people adopt this kind of behaviour, constant audio might open the door to new kinds of always-on apps. What’s the German word for “I think he’s going too far but I fear he might very well be right”?

In a way, AirPods might be providing the interim step Google Glass was missing; present (and providing acceptability) now for music and calls, later to augment, to provide an overlap of realities, allowing wearers to share a physical space and a digital one at the same moment.

You don’t have to look down at a screen to convey that your mind might be elsewhere — that you are dividing your attention between your physical surroundings and other kinds of interactions, hearing other voices. AirPods efficiently communicate your refusal to pretend to be “fully present.” AirPods, then, express a more complete embrace of our simultaneous existence in physical and digital space, taking for granted that we’re frequently splitting our mental energy between the two. […]

Once wireless earbuds attain critical mass, it would become a common expectation to always be listening, just as one is now more or less expected to never go anywhere without their phone. […]

As audio-based platforms take off, network effects would kick in, strengthening the incentives to leave earbuds in for longer and longer. It wouldn’t seem rude to wear them in conversation; it would be as acceptable as glancing at one’s phone or even sending a quick text message seems today. […]

But these devices can just as easily allow wearers to pursue a different, less integrated path: not augmented the surrounding physical reality or taking the people inhabiting it into account, but constructing an altogether parallel reality. […]