What will the world look like when we wear our computers? Rafael S. W. tries Google Glass for the first time and considers the convenience and creepiness of digital specs.
There’s a boy who works at my local library who has a cochlear implant. Even though it’s close to the same colour as his hair, he wears his straw-blond locks short so it’s pretty easy to notice, though people pretend not to.
This is how we’ve adapted as a society to these things. I watch the clumsy politeness from well-meaning customers as they avoid staring, or making eye contact. Their kids are entirely different. Those that notice him point or ask their parents about him. I wonder if they think it’s like some kind of Yeerk – those brain slugs from Animorphs. Most of the time their curiosity trumps their fear and the children stare as much as adults don’t.
When it comes to Google Glass, we’re all children.
I was in the same library when I first saw a guy wearing Google Glass. We’ll call him ‘Eric’ because in my excitement I forgot to introduce myself. Eric looked like a time traveller. He was dressed to blend in but winked too much and stared at everything. It was as if the books, the tacky Christmas decorations, the people on public computers as cumbersome as a microfiche were all strange and new to him. Or maybe he was just checking Facebook.
“You look up to turn it on,” he said after I’d rushed over and asked if he really truly had Google Glass or if he was just wearing some tacky hipster lensless glasses with a small plastic cube stuck on. Despite my enthusiasm, he let me try them on.
“Or you can say ‘Okay Glass’.”
I haven’t trusted talking to my technology since Apple’s Siri was revealed to help you bury a dead body. Also I didn’t want to look silly in front of the time traveller. I looked up.
“Oh wow!” I said. “That’s awesome!” I’d never been more excited by a clock in my life. Hovering in front of my vision was a digital clock face. A bit blurry, and kind of hard to focus on, but definitely a clock.
I guess I wasn’t so much excited by the clock as by the potential. For those wondering why Google is going into the glazier business, here’s a brief rundown. Glass is the brainchild of the suitably futuristic section of Google called Google X (which in the past has worked on such projects as driverless cars) with the mission of “producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer.”
It’s a US$1,500 complex smartphone displayed on a small crystal mounted just above your right eye. Or, as my new friend Eric described, “like having a small TV hovering above your face.” This does take a while to focus on, and watching someone try looks like they’re struggling to remember something. The head-mounted display is slightly reminiscent of the Oculus Rift but pared way down, taken out of gaming and onto the streets.
My main interest is how people will respond when Glass is common enough to be seen on the street, but not so common that people gaze past the middle distance of your face and chastise their children for staring. As one of the few inventions that has had backlash and laws introduced against it before it had even been created, Glass will almost certainly spark if not a revolution, then a reassessment of our understanding of privacy.
“I can take photos just by winking,” Eric said, winking. Not only does it make a particularly sleazy gesture even more disturbing, it’s also completely soundless.
“Google Glass will create a whole new set of privacy problems,” wrote Ayeshea Perera in her Firstpost article, ‘Why ‘wink to take pictures’ in Google Glass will fuel privacy fears’.
“People will have no way of knowing if they are being secretly photographed or recorded by people wearing Glass.”
Understandably, this worries people. There are places in the United States already barring entry to ‘Glassholes’.
‘Stop The Cyborgs’ has been founded– a group that sounds much more exciting in name than what they actually do, which is to fight against Google surveillance. There have been facial recognition concerns, and arrests both filmed by wearers and made on wearers.
In contrast are all the positive things people have been able to do with Google Glass, such as Pedro Guillen, a Spanish doctor, who in June this year live-streamed a knee surgery through Glass. This meant another physician, Doctor Homero Rivas – an expert in telemedicine – could participate in the procedure.
But it’s Glass’s integration with the world that shows its true potential for ubiquity.
“I walked here, following the maps,” Eric said, referring to the fact that the screen overlays the path in front of you with directional arrows.
Glass does all the amazing smartphone things we’ve grown blasé about – recording video, Google+ Hangouts, answering spoken questions – but the best (and also perhaps creepiest) thing is its method of communication. When asked a question, Glass’s “voice response is relayed using bone conduction through a transducer that sits beside the ear, thereby rendering the sound almost inaudible to other people.”
Pause for a moment while we reflect that we now have machines answering us through our skulls.
The question that is always raised whenever new technology comes along is whether this will bring us closer together or further apart. Having your eyes glued to your smartphone is no longer new, and if you count Facebook as communication then I guess we’re having more personal connections than ever.
Glass, like its archaic namesake, alters this so it’s no longer a one-way connection between you and the Web; rather, the world is filtered through it. At its core, Google Glass is simply an internet-powered interface that allows you to do everything a bit more fluidly: live-streaming video to your friends; following directions before your eyes; and, the feature I find most amazing, reading and translating signs in foreign languages – even when handwritten.
“Do you think it’s going to be the way of the future?” I asked.
“I hope so,” Eric said. “Otherwise I’m going to look pretty stupid.”
I laughed, winked at him, and left.
Rafael S. W. is a graduate of creative writing and one of the founding members of Dead Poets’ Fight Club. He writes every single day and has been published in Voiceworks, Going Down Swinging No. 33, the current print/audio edition No. 35, and Dot Dot Dash. He also competes in poetry slams and giant-sized chess games.
Feature image used under Creative Commons via Giuseppe Costantino