/// You Lookin’ at Me? Reflections on Google Glass.

April 12, 2013  |  All Things Digital

There is but one remedy for the Glass wearer — a bucket of ice water in the face whenever you suspect he has taken you unawares With the public beta launch of Google Glass, there has been a lot of discussion on why it will or won’t fail . The ultimate benchmark for success is high: After someone has tried Glass, can they imagine life without it? It’s the wrong question. Glass is Google’s unintentional public service announcement on the future of privacy. Our traditional bogeyman for privacy was Big Brother and its physical manifestation — closed-circuit TV — but the reality today is closer to what I call Little Sister, and she is socially active, curious, sufficiently tech-savvy, growing up in the land of “free,” getting on with life and creating a digital exhaust that is there for the taking. The sustained conversation around Glass will be sufficient to lead to a societal shift in how we think about the ownership of data, and to extrapolate a bit, the kind of cities we want to live in. For me, the argument that Glass is somehow inherently nefarious misses a more interesting point: It is a physical and obvious manifestation of things that already exist and are widely deployed today, whose lack of physical, obvious presence has limited a mainstream critical discourse. As a product that is both on-your-face and in-your-face, Glass is set to become a lightning rod for a wider discussion around what constitutes acceptable behavior in public and private spaces. The Glass debate has already started, but these are early days; each new iteration of hardware and functionality will trigger fresh convulsions. In the short term, Glass will trigger anger, name-calling, ridicule and the occasional bucket of thrown water (whether it’s ice water, I don’t know). In the medium term, as societal interaction with the product broadens, signs will appear in public spaces guiding mis/use 1 and lawsuits will fly, while over the longer term, legislation will create boundaries that reflect some form of im/balance between individual, corporate and societal wants, needs and concerns. So Shoot Me Of all of the companies and organisations that could bring Glass to market, I’m pleased that Google is the one making a significant investment: A company with a recent record of genuine innovation that stretches/defines social and behavioral norms 2 with a strong revenue stream and deep enough pockets to have a fighting chance of medium to long-term success. It also helps that the project is considered of strategic importance, and has key executive sponsorship . Less obvious, but no less relevant in this equation, is that the company has a lot to lose, is no longer the media darling, has fucked up enough times in public to know it can do so again (and again), has been humbled by more nimble competitors, has experienced talent drain and understands the impact of this on its culture and its bottom line. Of course, Google can financially afford to fail again: Experimentation and failure is a critical part of its DNA, but while privacy-snafu fines are low, the internal and external cultural costs of Glass failing are high. All technology challenges the status quo, and if a technology is noticed by consumers/users/constituents at all, it presents for some an opportunity and for others a threat.

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You Lookin’ at Me? Reflections on Google Glass.


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