Glass, Darkly

January 12th, 2014

Theodore Ross is sceptical about the benefits Google Glass promises to bring us one day:

Sergey Brin put forth this rationale last February in a TED conference presentation during which he compared Glass to a smartphone and suggested that the head-lowered gaze was somehow emasculating. "We all use these touch phones, which you can't even feel," he said. (Not sure what he meant by that, but hey, who's the visionary? Not me.) "Is this what you were meant to do with your body?" Brin claimed that they had tried "to make something that frees your hands [and] frees your eyes" – the ocular freedom being achieved by putting "the display up high, you know, out of your line of sight."

When you hear Brin speaking in these terms, best check your wallet. Likewise, when Genevieve Bell, Intel's in-house anthropologist (known as their Director of Interaction and Experience), goes on NPR to describe a future smartphone that will direct her past the coffee shop she's gone looking for and into a museum to view a "piece of art…like nothing [she's] ever seen before," I resist. I don't see that future as a totalitarian vision so much as one built on the exploitation of laziness and busyness, the fatigue of work and children, the stress of bills. It doesn't harm so much as transform, devolving us into a pack of boring stooges who can't decide whether we want a coffee or an epiphany-generating aesthetic experience.

In all fairness, it's entirely possible that by the time Google Glass is a reasonably-priced piece of hardware rather than a really, really expensive beta product Google, Intel and their competitors will have worked out what ordinary people really want to use wearable technology for. I'm pretty sure that being deluged with ads1 isn't it.

  1. Sorry, that's "Opportunities to view a piece of art like nothing we've ever seen before." If we can pick them out amongst all the exhortations from local shops to take advantage of their latest sale offer, designed just for us.

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