I just read Mark Hurst’s piece about the perils of Google Glass that’s been going around today and my initial reaction is that he wants us to be afraid. While it’s certainly important to have a healthy dose of skepticism about the invasion of privacy and the nefarious complications that might result, it seems to me that there’s also a very large potential upside to the widespread introduction of this new technology.
We’re always lamenting the seemingly increasing loss of direct connection in the modern, electronically infused world, the loss of the village mentality in favor of the discrete nuclear family and then the breakdown of that family in favor of isolated individuals or smaller family groups, amplified by the decreasing amount of “real life” face to face human contact resulting from the emergence of social networks and smartphones. While this is certainly a legitimate concern, it seems that the technology exemplified by Google Glass also holds a more optimistic possibility, which is that even as it perhaps further dissociates us from one another physically (though this is debatable—is it more dissociating to have a small screen between you and your friend or to be looking down at your phone every five seconds?), it might just foster a renewed intimacy similar to premodern village or archaic tribe (as David Brin suggests), though on a much larger scale and perhaps with more conscious choice and self-awareness (surely there will be “Glass free” restaurants, bars, etc.).
I’d like to suggest that perhaps the open source surveillance of all by all isn’t such a bad thing. Certainly it will change us—it might even be the last nail in the coffin of modernity—but won’t it impel us to treat one another better, to act with more care and awareness in all our interactions? Of course there are many problematic potentials of what will most likely amount to a radical rupture in human experience, but won’t the fact that there’s a chance we’re always being watched also greatly diminish domestic and child abuse, as well as racism, sexism, and meanness of all kinds?
If, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin first suggested in his concept of the “noosphere,” we really are the autonomous and free-willed cells of an emergent organism, isn’t this precisely how a collective, higher-order entity will emerge? We’ve made it this far: life out of non-life, animal awareness out of vegetable slumber, human awareness, language, and culture out of episodic mammalian consciousness. Why stop now? Perhaps this is the next logical step in the evolution of process and our job is to bring awareness to birthing this seemingly unavoidable transformation in human experience and simply to make it as positive as we can?