Watching this film a couple of weeks ago, Google Glass all of a sudden made all kinds of sense. Being able to record experiences in the moment unencumbered by a camera or phone, share them in the moment, navigate through a city without reference to a map (digital or paper), augment real live experience with the power of search – all these things seem to be requirements of living a frictionless digital duality. While I’m not sure that using a mobile to access the web is exactly ‘emasculating‘, I do think that Google are tapping into an important behavioural realisation – experiencing the world through the screen of a phone is not optimal living. As Sergey Brin says, “You want something that frees your eyes.”
But, inevitably, now that the application date to become a ‘Glass Explorer‘ has passed, some reasonable, inquisitive voices are raising questions about whether Google’s version of ‘documentary vision‘ is as desirable as it first appeared to be. Steve Mann, a pioneer of wearable computing, asks whether Google have learnt from his experiments in augmented vision – he raises important practical concerns about the design and safety, short and long-term, of Google’s solution. He also touches on important privacy issues, asking whether this technology will ‘turn us into so many Little Brothers’.
The privacy issue has huge implications, not just for societies already coming to terms with near-ubiquitous surveillance, but for individuals living in those societies. ‘Google Glass will live or die solely in the experience it creates for people,’ says Steve Hurst. But the people Hurst worries about are not the users, but ‘everyone other than the user‘, everyone viewed and potentially recorded, snapped, reverse image searched, Googled, by a Glass wearer. This is, obviously, a big deal. There are rules about how surveillance camera footage can be used. Google itself has had to modify streetview imagery according to national privacy laws. How are we going to legislate for Glass? Will social norms keep up with the march of technology? Who do I send a takedown notice to if I don’t know that I’ve been recorded and who that recording has been shared with? As Hurst says, ‘The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.’
Any new tech idea comes with caveats and warnings, sometimes reasonable, other times hysterical linkbait. At Labs we’re incurable optimists, and it feels, from here, that this is something big and important. Admittedly our excitement for the possibilities of Project Glass is tempered with plenty of unknowables, not least when we’re going to be getting our hands on a pair. The current $1500 pricetag and clunky design doesn’t change the fact that Project Glass, in some form, in some timeframe, is coming. As The Verge say in their positive ‘eyes-on’ review, ‘the question is no longer ‘if’, but ‘when’.