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Consumer tech losing its cool

I'm taking a break from dispensing advice for this column to rant a bit about two disturbing trends in consumer technology. Something really must be done about them. 1.

I'm taking a break from dispensing advice for this column to rant a bit about two disturbing trends in consumer technology. Something really must be done about them.

1. Wearable computing: You might have heard about a new device Google is developing called Google Glass. Debuting later this year for $1,500 U.S. a pop, it's a dumb looking set of glasses with a special screen in one lens that allows you to surf the web, send email and record video through the movement of your eye.

Pundits, the ones who suggest that "wearable computing" is the next frontier, like to think that some day we'll all be wearing these things.

Maybe, but really, please no. Geeks have finally become cool, rich, and envied by the mainstream, and now along comes the Lenscrafters equivalent of giant brick mobile phones from the 1990s to make geeks look like geeks again.

Google Glass screams goofy, and if there's anything about geeks that doesn't need to be made more vulnerable and obvious, particularly when they go out-doors, it's their eyewear.

Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I don't want to wear my technology. I want it to be portable like my smart-phone, which I can take out of my pocket and leave at home so I can go for a walk and enjoy an unfiltered world.

I also don't want other people wearing computer glasses when they're talking to me. Are they really listening to me? Recording what I'm saying? Texting my ex-girlfriend? Or checking their World of Warcraft score? Socially, we're not ready for this.

We've barely trained people to behave with manners about their smartphone use in public and soon our richer friends are going to show up at parties looking like a poor man's Geordi La Forge and secretly recording us for YouTube.

We are a blind culture indeed.

2. Bigger screen sizes in phones: My first cellphone a decade and a half ago was a small Sanyo the size of a chocolate bar. It was cute, unpretentious and the perfect size for slipping easily into any pocket. It made calls, which is the most people expected from phones back then.

Fast forward to today where we're experiencing an arms race in screen sizes on smartphones. Within the past year smartphones have mushroomed from a little over three inches in diameter on average to four and five inches or more.

The absurd height of this trend came at a recent annual mobile tech conference in Spain at which Samsung introduced an eight-inch smartphone. I'm not making this up. That's bigger than the Google Nexus 7 tablet I carry around in my backpack. Putting that up against your ear would be like talking into a Denny's pancake.

I get the need for larger screens as we demand more function and capability from our phones. My own phone is four inches and I love the expanded real estate. Older phones with smaller screens like the iPhone 4S now seem difficult and clumsy to use - larger screens are definitely better for those with aging eyes. But either we all get bigger pockets (or forever be tied to backpacks and purses) or we hold the line at somewhere under five inches. If we don't, we might as well give up the notion of elegant mobile tech that is beautiful and discrete.

Google Glass and eight-inch phones: consumer tech is in danger of losing its hard-won sense of style.

Barry Link is the editor of the Vancouver Courier.