The Perilous Promise of Google Glass


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?



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2 responses to “The Perilous Promise of Google Glass

  1. Interesting – I hadn’t read about this, but saw something on tv — I like your optimistic take! It’s not a pie-in-the-sky optimism like you get from tech folks who think it’s always more/better/now. The idea of these google glasses frightens me — so Terminator-vision/robotic! But most tech things scare me at first. That was rambling non-thoughts but I’ll conclude by saying I really need to finally get around to reading Teilhard de Chardin. Flannery O’Connor sure loves him but I’ve never gotten around to it. What’s the best book to start with?

  2. Thanks, Seth! As you probably know, one of the main points of Jamesian pragmatism is that it is generally necessary to believe that something is possible in order to achieve that thing. I’m sure a lot of it is simply “the way I just see and feel the total push and pressure of the cosmos,” but I don’t understand why so many otherwise progressive people’s first reaction is to condemn novelty. Maybe they think criticizing things makes them sound smart. Anyway, I can’t wait to get my hands on a Glass with Ray Ban aviator clip-ons. And yes, Teilhard is great. “The Phenomenon of Man” is probably the way to go. I didn’t know Flannery O’Connor was into him, but that makes me like her more.

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