Glass Stigma is Understandable, But Irrational

6/13/2014 Stephen Colbert 0 Comments

Ever since the visor of Geordie La Forge first graced television screens in 1987, geeks have wanted augmented reality eye-wear.  The desire has never quite hit mainstream culture, but the science fiction behind AR headpieces is becoming more science and less fiction, albeit not any more culturally acceptable.

Google Glass is leading the charge when it comes to this revolution.  It has been publicly available for $1,500 since May of this year, although it still retains the "Explorer" tag, which is basically a Googley way of saying "beta," as if the Google brand didn't inherently suggest it was a beta product.

The reason Glass is still in Explorer/beta mode is because it's an entirely new platform.  Imagine an iOS or Android device without apps (so... Windows Phone or Blackberry... Just picture that).  Because Glass is such a new platform and is used in a way that is categorically unique to any previous computer platform, it isn't ready for an official launch until all the use cases have been fleshed out and developers have built all the fancy apps and services that run on Glass.

As a result, the absence of a full functionality means the Glass Explorer program basically amounts to people walking around with cameras on their heads.  This makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  It's not that new of a feeling, really.  We experienced something similar when cameras first started appearing on cell phones.  There was some social panic and it wasn't all that uncommon to see no cell phone signs in locker rooms and some of the more paranoid citizens would regularly approach people to make sure they weren't being photographed.

This is a common phenomenon.  New forms of technology have always received significant cultural dissent from as far back as the advent of the written word, to the printing press, to the internet, camera phones, smart phones, and now, Google Glass.  It's understandable, because humanity often fears things that are new or unknown, but it's important to keep this in mind when looking at new technology, be it the Gutenberg printing press or Google Glass.

Here's the thing that needs to be rationalized with technology like Glass, though: The technology is going to exist regardless of how many people wear it in public.  Cameras are getting better, smaller, and smarter.  Public and private surveillance is therefor far more common.  You will be recorded when you are in public.

Look at the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.  The number of pictures that surfaced on Reddit show just how much privacy anyone had.  The difference is that the recording devices were all in people's pocket instead of on their faces, so there's an illusion of privacy in public.  People, be it government employees, criminals, or just bystanders, need to realize that what they are saying and doing is not being said/done in private when they are in public.

This is actually the best part about Google Glass.  It reminds you that you are being watched.  Not being watched by big brother, but by your friends and neighbors.  It's a form of social accountability.  The prevalence of recording technology already in our culture has had a noticeable impact society in some cases.

As current recording methods (typically cell phone cameras, sometimes dash cams) are more and more prevalent, videos of assault, racism, police brutality, general jackassery and many other offenses or crimes are posted online.  Accountability is one of the best weapons against these acts.  If a cop knows he's being recorded, he's less likely to mistreat a minority, if a driver knows they're likely being recorded, they may be less likely to participate in some form of road rage.

I am not in favor of government surveillance, but public surveillance?  Sure.  Anything that happens in my home is my business and the business of those I invite in, but the second I go out my front door, I'm accountable to everyone I interact with to not be an asshole.  I tend to keep myself accountable to that standard, but some people may need Google Glass in their face to remind them of that.

Yes, it's different, but that's not all bad.  It's not all good either.  It's definitely a little weird, but don't forget, we also post pictures of our cats wearing Bane masks on the internet, so it's not like we have much dignity to lose.  Our children will probably find Google Glass a lot less awkward than we do.

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