Google glass is the most provocative recent development in the mobile space. It echoes previous symbols of subcultural affiliation – cyberpunk’s “Mirror Shades” and steampunk’s goggles. But glass is presented to us as an entirely new paradigm and a mainstream accessory.
There are a number of reasons why glass is an interesting touchstone for scholars from a variety of disciplines. It’s foremost an extension of ubiquitous computing’s (ubicomp) utopian desire to have the technology “disappear.” In Mobile Interface Theory Jason Farman elaborates further: “the ‘interfaceless interface’ of pervasive computing carries with it the threat of exercising hegemony by receding to the background and avoiding critique” (p. 29). The video lampooning Google Glass as a new advertising space – literally, capturing eyeballs – is likely not realistic. Advertisers still haven’t figured out how to monetize mobile phones, never mind something far more exotic. However, it is certainly a move by Google to get people to create and engage with more content for various types of monetization. Data are valuable, and this is part of the gold rush.
More pragmatically, glass evokes privacy concerns. On one hand, video and audio recording has long been available in cell phones and “keychain cameras.” On the other, the wearing of google glasses is a clear signal that you may be recording those around you. This question of regulating one’s body in response to possible (perhaps not actual) observation is a classic Foucauldian notion. The argument among some surveillance scholars is that the state has essentially outsourced its surveilling to individuals vis-a-vis social media platforms. I’m sympathetic to these concerns, but overall more interested in the question of social cohesion: will glass bring distanced people together at the expense of local synchronous interaction? Sergey Brin has described smartphones as “emasculating” and “isolating” in comparison to glass. Beyond the strange claim that a pair of rimless glasses is somehow manly, Brin encourages us to think of google glass as hip and unifying. In an advertisement for glass, Google pluck our heartstrings as they present the always-on information retrieval and storage features of glass as an inroad to our own humanity. <snark>I’m tempted to wonder if at the end of my life Google will have a “flashback” option that compiles my greatest video hits for easy perusal before I snuff it. Otherwise, what meaning would life have?</snark>
Going back to technological histories, it’s clear that glass encourages the types of utopian and dystopian discourses that always accompanies new technologies. Scholars are going to have a field day with this one. What will Donna Haraway say? What would McLuhan?