Posted by Jason Ocker

Who Hangs Out with the Watchers?

I don’t know if it’s because it’s Mobile World Congress week, but I’ve been seeing a slew of Google Glass articles get past the filters of my inbox. From the Drudge Report-vaunted headline of Google Glass getting voice commands to the video showing how the user interface actually looks to this long-form Verge article purportedly showing a journalist slowly becoming convinced in their imminent inevitability and utility, this once-far-off prototype, often punchline technology seems to be getting more real every day.

So far the questions regarding this technology have all been focused on the user: Will the glasses relay enough useful information? Will they be too expensive for the mainstream? Will they block too much vision? Will they make the wearer look like a tool?

But there’s one aspect that nobody seems to be commenting on. How are people on the other side of the glasses going to react?

See, Google Glass isn’t just a way to augment reality with maps and communications. It’s a recording device. Heck, pre-Google Glass, a set of eyeframes with a camera and video were called spyglasses. They were used by movie spies and perverts.

Of course, the cameras in spyglasses were hidden, while Google Glass will look relatively obvious for what they are. Then the question becomes, “How are we going to feel when everybody around us basically turns into paparazzi?”

Now, you could say we’re already there. Everybody has a camera in their pockets. CCTV is everywhere. With Google Glass, the recording devices are going to be in your personal space, without the physical cue of somebody holding their smartphone or camera, without the comfort of knowing you’re lost in just a few black-and-white frames of 24-hour closed-caption coverage in a public space.

On one hand, I think we won’t care. After all, every single person also has a hidden audio recording device in their pockets. Smartphones all have that capability, but nobody continually asks, “Are you recording this?” Maybe that’s how it’ll be with these glasses.

On the other hand, there’s something about pictures and video that’s so, I don’t know, soul-stealing. Also extremely damning in a court of law.

Maybe the advent of Google Glass will usher in a new ear of politeness, where people will assume that they’re always being recorded in high-definition close-up. We’ll talk nicer. More refined. Always afraid that our casual, offhand comments will make it to the people it wasn’t meant for.

Basically, there’s a chance that Google Glass will turn us all into 70-year-old Englishmen.

As funny as that would be, I don’t really believe that’ll happen. I mean, we’re in a social media age where casual comments make it out there all the time. But social media is still a filter, one that’s controlled by the originator of the content, even if he’s drunk and angry that his girlfriend dumped him. Google Glass doesn’t give you even that.

I’m sure, like everything else, we’ll adapt and get used to it. We might be a little phonier, a little more cheesier for it, but we’ve been okay with social media doing that to us.

Still, in the end, the question for mass-market appeal might not be, “Will people want to wear these?” It might be, “Will everybody else let them wear these?”

Photo credit: Antonio Zugaldia, Wikimedia Commons