I have to admit I’m pretty excited about Google Glass. It’s a big
step forward for lifelogging, for augmented reality, and for
ubiquitous computing of all kinds. I haven’t gotten my hands on Glass
personally, but it really feels like there’s good reason to be
excited. Tech blogger Robert Scoble recently wrote:
I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a
competitor). It’s that significant.
I can imagine dozens of ways to make life better with a device like
this, and I’ve only just begun thinking about the possibilities.
I also have my concerns. Concerns about how well it will work, about
intrusiveness, about privacy, and about platform lock-in. But I
continue to be amazed by the amount of abject fear and hatred being
aimed at Google Glass. We’ve hardly even seen what it is (let alone
what it can be), and already there’s panic. We’ve seen
violence threatened against Glass wearers and we’ve
seen anti-Glass political organizations emerge.
Some of this might be incumbency backlash, but mostly this is just
good old-fashioned fear. And not necessarily Luddite fear
either—there’s no need for name-calling or dismissiveness—the things
these people are afraid of are often legitimate concerns. Make no
bones about it, there will be problems. There will be
challenges. Privacy will have to explored, re-defined. There will be
questions of legality. Social problems—gaps will emerge between the
have and have-nots. And last but not least, questions of human
But it’s only truly scary in a kind of short-sighted vacuum where
technology runs amok and there’s no one there to stop it. The truth is
that once we let these kinds of technologies spread their wings,
social protocols will develop. (They always do.) Laws will come into
force as needed. Human decency will have its say. Privacy doesn’t
happen because “invasive” technologies are banned, it happens because
we agree not to use them against each other in disagreeable ways.
We need to see these technologies for what they are—the natural
advancement of our species. Man is not just his body, he’s also his
tools. We couldn’t have made it this far without them. They’re a part
of us. Our identity is defined by our interaction with tools, just as
much as it’s defined by behaviors like our curiosity for life or our
affection for each other.
Yes, these tools are going to bring problems, but they’re new
problems. They’re the next level of problems. And they come with
benefits. Harnessing fire brought conflagrations. Working steel
brought weapons and wars. Navigation brought conquest. Mathematics
brought artillery. Medicine brought malpractice and biological
warfare. Atomic science brought nuclear bombs. Advanced agriculture
brought obesity. But should we hope to undo all of these things?
Should we reject technologies before we know what they are or what
they can do?
Technologies don’t always end up being good, but they are good more
often than bad. And all the progress we’ve made in improving the
quality of life on this planet from shivering, starving,
disease-plagued, ignorant, violent, uncomfortable cavemen who barely
lived twenty years, up to the lives we have today—we have technology to
thank for it. As well as the people who took the plunge, fought back
the fear, and declared that they didn’t want the problems of their
parents and would boldly face a new set of problems. Technology is
how we grow as a species—it is a part of us in the most real sense.
The rapid adoption rates of smart phones show that we want technology
as close to us as we can get it. And we don’t just want to have a
device available—it’s not one smart phone or tablet per home—we
want it to be our own. It’s a personal technological device. It’s
an extension of ourselves. The logical next step is to strap it to
bodies. And the step after that? Into our bodies.
And the thing is, Google Glass won’t be the winner. Despite all the
impotent rage and all the exuberant hopes, it’s a stepping-stone; it’s
a start. But it’s the next step. And Google’s humble attitude of
experimentation and admission that ‘we don’t know what it is yet’
might just be the perfect way to start out.
Maybe people aren’t ready (yet) to wear technology on their
faces. Maybe an iBracelet / iWatch (if such a thing is even in the
works) might be more palatable to consumers, even if it ultimately
turns out to be an intermediate step to something more like Glass.
But whatever it is, rather than rejecting what we fear, let’s shape
what’s to come. Let’s try it out, see what it can do, and then share
with our fellow man what we think is good and what we think is bad. At
the end of the day there’s no stopping it—only guiding it. This is
the natural next step in an unbroken procession that started when a
primate first picked up a stick to poke at something. Let’s embrace a
new set of problems—together.