Google Glass: half full, or half empty?

Google announced project Glass in the summer of last year. A device you wear on your head which gives you notifications, directions and other images directly available in your peripheral vision. It also includes a camera to record your perspective whenever you like.

A classmate of mine had a very clear reaction to the Google Glass interface video I shared on my Facebook page. She called it 'disturbing' or 'bleak', however you would translate it. She felt that we were actually lying to ourselves if we thought that moving the screen out of our hands to in our eyes would actually improve social relations.

While I somewhat disagreed, she had a point. Sure, there are many possibilities to having a real Heads-Up Display instead of a distracting phone you have to get out of your pocket, but we need to think about the social consequences too. I would like to think that if we got used to having a phone in our hands at all times, we could get used to Glass in our face. But how would we do that? What place do we give Glass in our society?

"We will adapt"

Technology enthusiasts often claim that every new technology may seem alien at first, but will become commonplace and integrated a few years down the line, once people start using it. It happened before with camera phones, why shouldn't it happen with Glass?

Jeff Jarvis, the eternal optimist, author and co-host of cloud-technology podcast This Week in Google, stated on the podcast's episode 186 that we would adapt to Google Glass. We will make new norms about Glass, we will figure it out. No use in stopping it, so why not integrate it in a healthy way?

Leo Laporte, the main host, was more skeptical about Glass even catching on. Before a technology can truly take over, it has to become 'cool'. Some people argue that Glass simply isn't going to be accepted by the people looking at them, rather than those wearing them.

"I Used Glass"

In order to judge how Glass will impact your daily life and others around you, you have to actually use the device. Will it be more rude to look into Glass than to use a smartphone?

Joshua Topolsky of The Verge (video above) had a chance to test Glass for himself. In the video you see how he comes across while using glass: slightly distracted to say the least.

One side of me says that he is demonstrating the awkwardness of using Glass in front of others. Another side of me says that this is hardly different than being distracted by a smartphone. The only difference is that these glasses are new and weird. It makes me very curious about the actual experience of being a user and being around a user.

Will we tolerate Glass? We are tolerating smartphones in a limited fashion now. For instance, checking your messages in a group situation isn't frowned upon so much. The new thing with Glass is that you can't really see what the user is looking at. But you can deduce how engaged they are in the conversation. It's not less social per se, but it might make it easier ignoring people. We'll have to wait till it's released into the wild. We can only speculate now.

Glass half-empty

Way before glass was even announced, in december of 2011 writer and very funny media-cynic Charlie Brooker produced Black Mirror. A miniseries of techno-horror sci-fi bringing to you a world of questionable ethics and pervasive technology. In the episode "The Entire History Of You" Brooker demonstrated what would happen if you were able to record and recall every living moment of your life by means of a simple implant. Not exactly what Glass purports to do (or even what it is capable of), but in light of Google's announcement it doesn't seem that far-fetched.

But if you record your life, what happens when someone else or some organisation gets a hold of it?

Little Brothers

Look, I get it. A camera mounted on your head manufactured by one of the biggest corporations is worth asking questions about. A more alarmist article would jump to conclusions about features that don't exist. These fears stem from valid concerns and they could easily become reality. But Google Glass is at this point not uploading a constant stream of camera data, you still have to choose what to record. This makes it just as vulnerable to unwanted surveillance as your smartphone is.

If you are skeptical of Google Glass, you are either just as skeptical of smartphones or you have accepted the consequences of smartphones to your privacy and security. Google Glass is just a small element in the larger picture.

Where do we go from here?

Do I need to fear something like Google Glass? Or do I instead fear antisocial behaviour in general? What about surveillance by corporation and government? In a world where these underlying problems persist, they will manifest themselves in our products. There are probably just as many positive things you could think of about Google Glass as there are negative. Every technological concept, like hacking, has its pros and cons. Hackers can break into your bank account, but they can also leak dark government secrets to the public. Social networking encourages superficial behaviour, but it also creates more possibilities to connect. 

I won't say technology is neutral. If only because the people using it are not neutral. The short history of popular tech has shown that the consumer masses are always craving the newest, the easiest, and the most self-indulging technologies. People want stimulation, interaction. The easier the better.

The fears we associate with any technology are indicative of our society. For a brief moment we see how this new technology will ruin our society forever, until we get used to it. And then we get a more complicated status quo. Glass could escalate some problems but it could also solve other problems. Let's make the effort to discuss and evaluate Glass. Not out of irrational fear, but out of a sense of duty for the future of us all.

Technology is our tool, we shouldn't let it be our master.


  1. Need a comment, why not zoidberg?

    1. Too bad you didn't think of a better Futurama reference. Momcorp EyePhone anyone?


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