The Promise and Perils of a World Filled With Touchscreens

Corning’s futuristic video about touchscreens of the future offers lessons about why they’re not so great after all.

Touchscreens may not be all they're cracked up to be, but don't tell that to the glass-tech fantasists at Corning, who have dreamed up a spotless, shiny future in which everydamnthing around you is made of 100% Pure Glass Awesome?. The video is so gorgeously executed, it's easy to see their point:

Many of these supposedly just-around-the-corner touchscreen innovations do look pretty awesome. A transparent smartphone that wirelessly connects to a huge screen-table? Sign me up! A bathroom mirror that shows me the news? Yes please! Flexible-glass displays that can be rolled up like blueprints or tossed on the nightstand like a magazine? Bring it, baby!


But some of the other features of this all-glass future give me the willies — like sheer, featureless touchscreen car dashboards. Sure, displaying big maps is pretty neat, but in order to use center-console controls safely while driving, you have to be able to do so without looking. How are you supposed to find the radio volume or cue up your next turn on a map when, as far as your fingers are concerned, there's nothing there? Hell, I can't even advance tracks on my iPod Touch without stopping cold in the middle of the sidewalk and concentrating on the screen. I hope Corning's future involves mass transit, because I sure as hell don't want to be driving on roads full of these glasstacular deathtraps.


Corning massively underestimates the power and importance of physical affordances. The video shows some kind of fashiony person fanning out a deck of photographs on his sleek touchscreen workspace, but if you ever saw The September Issue, the documentary about how an issue of Vogue gets put together, you'll know that this is pretty much a crock: art directors and editors-in-chief still love to work with hard copies (in addition to digital) because there are no limits to what you can do with it when you're experimenting with layouts, combinations, edits, and everything else. With a virtual interface, you're stuck with what it thinks you'll want to do, and no more. Just because you see a "stack" of images on your Touchglass MakeScreen®, there's no way of knowing for sure how the system will actually let you interact with them; this is why every iPad app under the sun needs to include a "cheat sheet" for using its supposedly perfectly intuitive interface.


By the end of Corning's five-minute video, my initial excitement had curdled into a kind of free-floating dread about what it would feel like to actually live in such a physically sterilized, too-virtual world — where even your kids' drawings on the refrigerator are nothing but evanescent ghostware. Don't get me wrong: touchscreens are amazing, and Corning's glass technology will surely make them even more so. But when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And after watching Corning's all-glass, all-the-time vision of the future, a hammer is exactly what I wanted to reach for.


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  • Udayan Banerjee

    The reality, I am sure, will contain looots of advertisement in all those screens.

  • Stephanie George

    I hope they provide us all with antimicrobial display cleaners everywhere! Right now, hygiene is an issue with tablets, iPads, etc, when used in a hospital setting. Now imagine the touchscreen device being used for registration in the ER. Ick. Or any device that has to be in an elementary school setting - museums with school groups, for instance. Kids are sticky, even when freshly washed.

  • SLANT Media

    All fair points, but it's a concept video, not reality. It's brainfood, not doctrine. Let the Cornings of the world dream big and then let's figure out how to practically get there.

  • Brian Jackson

    Ha! I got the same reaction. I don't want to knock it all too hard of course. Some of this really does seem soon-to-come. But there's another slant to this that disturbs me. A bit less human interaction with!

  • Daniel Ferrara

    I agree Steven, fingerprints, scratches from jewelry, etc. You can not do anything accurately with your finger a stylus would be better for some tasks. The Wacom tablets, with an LCD display, are at least functional for working with drawing programs. The ability to connect the display with a computer to use it as an interface would also add value. These tablets took a long time coming, I designed the first computer tablet over 25 years ago it was called the"BitPad" made by Summagraphics Inc in Fairfield, CT. It employed a stylus not unlike todays devices.

  • Pirus

    I think your problems with this glass like future is totally unfounded. I actually like it, and just to point out some of the things aren't even glass like the book and the portable work space the dude was carrying around .

    As for touch devices owning us, aren't we already slaves to technology in general.

  • Fiona

    To add on, most of us would be wearing spectacles then due to the glare of screens to our eyes 24/7.

  • manoj manduva

    If they can make flexible glass displays, I hope they can make glass that gives tangible feel involving haptics. I'm just trying to extend the possibility and positive side of the applications.

  • Steven Olsen

    If this is the future-- our world will be full of fingerprints. It's already an issue on touch devices we own-- except the devices really own us.