Google Glass: What it Means for Our Brains and for Procurement

Spend Matters welcomes another guest post from Alex Burns.

In 2011, an interesting study found that our brains have been very specifically altered by the Internet. In this day and age, we readily have access to the Internet via smartphones, tablets, laptops and free Wi-Fi in coffee shops, and thus we have access to the vast database of information stored there. Even when we’re visiting suppliers or talking to our colleagues about supply chain activity, we can pull up information over a network on one of many electronic screens in a manner that makes information access a standard course of business.

When you don’t know the latest sports score, or how far away it is from A to B, or the name of that actress from that movie, the first thing you do is to take out the smartphone and look it up. What did we do before we had this? We are seldom offline for long unless it is by choice, and many find it a weird feeling to be ‘unplugged.” All of a sudden we don’t have access to unlimited knowledge. Before the advent of the Internet, people certainly wanted to know something but did not have instant access to it. So how did we go about finding it? All the non-Internet sources, of course, such as the library, newspapers, etc. But we also formed what is known as transactive memory groups.

In other words, you knew who in your various social groups knew what. It has been shown that we now form transactive memory groups with the Internet because the way in which information is stored in our brains has changed. We remember not what we’ve read but rather where the article was found. If we can’t remember specific information, we do remember where to find that information. The first thing we think of when we don’t know something is to turn to Google or whichever search engine you happen to use regularly.

This formation of transactive memory with the Internet has certain advantages. It allows easier compression of memory and gives us access to a vast quantity of information. Think about it – our minds are becoming a sort of “in-memory” database across the likes of what SAP and Oracle are developing! The only disadvantage is the need to be constantly “plugged in” to access it all. And while we might nostalgically wish to be less dependent on technology, the fact is that it’s no different from losing touch with your various social groups.

So, where does Google Glass come in? No doubt you’ve seen the reviews and frankly, it looks pretty awesome. All the functions of a smartphone on a HUD? I want one. But how is this going to affect us? It has the function of keeping us consistently “wired.” With access to the Internet during every waking hour, it’s not even necessary to take your phone out of your pocket as you would simply talk.

With Google Glass and similar technologies, will we form an even closer symbiosis with our technology? Yes, probably. Should we ban these devices to save our children’s minds? Well no, not really, because their minds don’t need saving. We would only be depriving them of immediate access to any information they want, and that would be a terrible thing. They would form the same connections anyway (albeit at a slower rate) but with different devices and people instead of the Internet. Google simply centralises the information.

So is Google Glass a good thing? Undoubtedly. Not only is science fiction slowly becoming reality, but fingertip access to information will only improve the human race as knowledge bases expand and learning increases.

Postscript (authored by Jason Busch): The implications of Google Glass for procurement and supplier management are potentially huge. It’s our estimate based on recent interactions in business meetings with procurement teams, consultants and vendors that at least 25% (often much higher) of participants in discussions rely on some kind of “second screen” already as part of presenting and digesting information and activities. This device could be a smartphone or (increasingly) it could be a tablet. I personally remember the early days of Blackberries in 2000 and 2001 when I used one of these early devices in meetings with colleagues to write back and forth across the table from potential business partners. It was real-time instant messaging but without the disruption of having to tap-tap on a notebook keyboard.

Google Glass raises the ability to access information to an entire new level. Imagine how performance data, market intelligence (e.g., commodity trending data) or other information could be easily pulled up in the context of conversation with a supplier or internal business stakeholders, surfacing itself in context, as needed, in front of your eyes! From facilitating with face-to-face negotiations and discussions to helping win colleagues over to a particular course of action, Google Glass could create a true cyborg-like procurement manager with unprecedented access to information. The ability to pull insights on the fly could free up the mind of individuals to draw on greater and greater levels of granular detail within the context of a bigger picture.

As this technology is adopted, we will no doubt have pockets of information asymmetry in meetings and discussions, in which one party has access to better information. Moreover, as with the early Blackberry texting that I practiced over a decade ago, it will enable colleagues to secretly exchange and share information amongst themselves, without others knowing it – or at least knowing only subconsciously rather than consciously.

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  1. Jane:

    While a fascinating technological development, I would take a less “Rose-Tinted” view and question whether a facility like this will actually improve business dealings and may be more of an impediment . We tend to put a lot of store in eyeball to eyeball contact to establish trust in relationships. Dr John Grohol has an interesting take on the Psychology of us potentially being locked into our glasses.

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