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Opinion: Are you ready for the physical Web?

virtual reality glasses augmented reality physical webYou are sitting in a park when a small child tugs on your pant leg and warns you not to step on the magical creatures under your bench. Odds are she doesn’t have a vivid imagination; she’s just playing The Hidden Park, an iPhone app.

In this game, kids point an iPhone around the park, and they follow a map that tells them where the magical creatures live. They have to solve riddles and puzzles, and they take pictures along the way — which can serve as “proof” to doubting adults that we are not alone.

Welcome to the early signs of the “physical Web,” where everything in our world is as digital and interconnected as the Web is today. It will change your career and your life, so let’s take a quick tour.

The Webcam Social Shopper lets people turn any webcam into a mirror, so you can find clothes online and hold them up to see how they will look on you.

ping social networking garmentElectric Foxy takes things a step further, by connecting clothing with technology. The company is experimenting with Ping, a ring that gives you feedback when you exercise, and Move, a line of clothing designed for athletes and dancers to help them understand precisely the movements of their bodies.

Not every innovation will necessarily represent a step forward for society. A Japanese gadget enthusiast hooked up a Kinect (from Microsoft Xbox 360) sensor to a pair of video glasses and created a virtual girlfriend named Hatsune Miku, who follows him around. She’s a pretty good, if somewhat creepy dancer; no word on how good the developer is.

Here’s one thing I’m pretty sure about: Looking through a computer will be dramatically different than looking at a computer. You look at your laptop and smartphone, but when companies start offering smart glasses we will literally look at the world through computers.

When this happens, Hatsune will have lots of competition. Zombies, athletes, movie stars, game tokens, fact sheets, cooking demonstrations, and, yes, advertisements will be everywhere. At this point, we all will have three choices: ignore the changes, dig deeper, or escape the real world.

#1 Ignore the changes

Since my intention is to write about entrepreneurial opportunities arising from technology, this isn’t the option I’d recommend. Sure, you could stick your head in the sand and reject new technologies. But the people likely to do that stopped reading five paragraphs ago.

#2 Dig deeper

The Physical Web will bring humanity closer to the truth than we have ever been before. I don’t mean “the meaning of life” truth. I mean the truth as in, “Is it time to water my garden?” or “How long will it take me to drive from my office to home if I leave right now?”

bigartmob art mobile augmented reality appNearly everything will have data connected to it, or will become data itself. BigArtMob lets people position art — from graffiti to museum art — onto a map, where people can then access it and it can become the foundation for, say, personalized art tours.

You probably know that smart glasses are nearly here. More than 17 million people have watched Google’s Project Glass video showing how data will be overlaid on nearly everything you see.

This data will make you smarter, which is another reason not to choose option number one. If you do, everyone else could be smarter than you.

Of course, you won’t need to don a pair of smart glasses to benefit from the physical Web. You could instead just connect sensors around your home, yard and office… and then tell your stuff what to tell you.

To get a sense (no pun intended) of what this will be like, stop by IFTTT. Here you can already tell the Web what to tell you. For example, I use IFTTT to send me a text every time the word “snow” is in the forecast in Vermont. Even better interfaces will spring up for sensors.

#3 Escape the real world

Watch for escapism to get a lot more powerful.

I have no inside information whatsoever, but you can bet that one of the first power users of smart glasses will be the porn industry, which is always the first to embrace new tech. “In your face” will take on a whole new meaning.

So if you buy your teenager a pair of smart glasses, you might also want to think about limiting what he or she can do with them.

Game companies will be close behind porn merchants, with new offerings that bring zombies, aliens and monsters into the real world. Players will be able to hunt and “kill” real-life people and animals, as well as imaginary characters that the rest of us don’t see.

occulus rift kickstarter virtual reality glassesI’m not a fan of movies or TV shows in which the viewers get to choose the ending, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see new types of entertainment spring up that allow people to escape far away from everyday life. As I write this, the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset is blowing the doors off its $250,000 funding goal on Kickstarter. The headset will bring gamers inside the game, in a way no device has done before.

And it’s a pretty safe bet that by this time next year even Oculus Rift will seem tame.

So what does this mean for your career and your life? Keep in mind three things as you make decisions about what to buy, where to work, and how to invest your savings. The emerging physical Web will:

1.) Link devices to other devices, plus devices to people and vice versa.

2.) Cause sensors to be built into nearly everything, and they will be connected, too.

3.) Let you tell all this stuff what to do, and what to tell you.

Bruce Kasanoff is a speaker, author and innovation strategist who tracks sensor-driven innovation at Sense of the Future. Kasanoff and co-author Michael Hinshaw teamed up to explore more of the opportunities unearthed by disruptive forces in Smart Customers, Stupid Companies.

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