Okay, aside from the dorkiest thing to have come along since the fanny pack, Google Glass promises to be one of those things that will have tremendous unintended consequences. You get the feeling that the developers have gotten so carried away with solving the universal problem of people looking down at their smartphones while walking into traffic (or bears) that they probably didn’t anticipate that they were opening up a whole new can of chili. And not just fashion chili.
Google Glass is another example of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Like X-ray glasses (a technology that kids from my generation are still waiting for). Or rocket packs. Or robotic lawn-mowers. Or helicopter-cars. Or the morning-after pill for men.
An old friend of mine used to call it the Neatness Counts rule of product development; “That’s neat! Let’s do that!” But just because it would be neat, doesn’t mean you should not think about the implications. It would be neat to have a nuclear powered motorcycle between your legs. But should you?
So what could possibly be wrong with it?
Here are the various, salient objections to Google Glass so far:
- They are a further violation of privacy, inasmuch as everyone, all the time, would now be Big Brother, recording everything you do or say and uploading it to a gigantic server in the black heart of Google Mountain.
- They are, in their current iteration, highly susceptible to hacking.
- They are still a distraction to driving, walking, operating heavy machinery, and running into bears.
- They are clamping a non-ionizing radiation transmitter to your temple, like sticking your head into a low-watt microwave for days at a time (like who wouldn’t do that?).
- That they would accelerate the social alienation that smartphones have already started in society. But this time, just because someone seems to be looking at you doesn’t mean they are looking at you. Or listening to you.
- That they are the ideal stalker device.
- That they could be used to illegally record copyright-protected performances.
- That they could be used to upload pictures of you or (more sinisterly) your kids to the Internet without your knowledge.
- That they could be used to cheat in casinos (in fact, most casinos have banned them already, and they aren’t even on the market yet).
- And a whole bunch of Homeland Security issues I’m not at liberty to discuss with you.
There are other objections I’ve been reading, but I don’t want to lose my train of thought (oh, that was one, too: 11. That you’d lose your train of thought, and walk right into a bear).
To most of these complaints, I’ve read gushing enthusiasts and Google spokesbots just say “pfft.” One even said that he had heard no objections to his wearing his beta version from any of his colleagues, even when he follows them into the restroom. And Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said (and I’m not kidding): “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” If ever there was an Orwellian statement, it had to be that doozy.
Don’t be evil, Google. Remember?
It makes you wonder if Google’s initial slogan, “Don’t be evil,” has really been directed at us, the customers, all this time and not to themselves. Maybe we’ve been misunderstanding it, like that in that classic Twilight Zone episode in which the seemingly benign aliens bestow on earthlings a book entitled “To Serve Man”…which turns out to be a cookbook. (Ooops, have you not seen that episode? I’m so sorry.)
In other words, Google isn’t interested in what the objections are. This thing is so neat. And the reviews are just fulsome with praise. And they can’t wait to get it out there. And we can’t wait to strap it to our foreheads and start cooking our pre-frontals.
Besides, they can’t stop now to reflect; they’ve sunk so much into this thing.
One of my favorite comedians, Eddie Izzard, has a running gag he calls, “But we’ve come all this way.” In one bit, he describes how the Crusades got out of hand. A Crusader is hacking and hewing at the Muslims in Jerusalem:
Crusader: “I hack and kill you in the name of Jesus.”
Saracen: “No! No! Jesus is a prophet in our religion. We kill you in the name of Jesus!”
Crusader: “Do you?…hmmm….I didn’t know that. …well, I kill you for your dark skin. Jesus was a white skinned man… from Oxford.”
Saracen: “No he wasn’t. Jesus was from here. He was dark skinned, such as we.”
Crusader: “Really?…hmm [reflecting] … but we’ve come all this way.”
I think that’s the dilemma Google finds itself in. It’s come all this way in developing this amazing new technology–a little temple-mounted computer–that they can’t stop now to reflect on the societal, health, and legal implications. Inertia is carrying them forward. This thing is so neat.
Wait a minute…what’s this button do?