Glass is on its way. The portable computer/information device worn almost like a heads-up display within a set of glasses frames promises to be one of the “next best things” in ubiquitous portable technology. Whether Google gets to the finish line first, or Microsoft, Sony, or maybe even Wii, it’s a sure bet that Moore’s law will apply once again, and they will become exponentially more useful and less expensive with every passing year, to the point at which they will end up for sale at the checkout counters at WalMart alongside Juicyfruit gum and Bluetooth headsets.
But for the moment the bleeding edge of Google Glass must navigate an anti-publicity campaign from people who fear a loss of privacy from discreet glasses-wearing spies, whom they call “cyborgs.” Yet further proof, they state, of a society in which there is no privacy.
It’s an interesting fact of human life, at least in the countries where we have the time and money to worry about such things, that every great technology comes accompanied by a fanfare of reluctance, from those who would rather things stay the same, and not move further into a dangerous replica of The Matrix. The same argument was presented when cellphones first came equipped with cameras. And when the Internet was made available to everyone. And when ATMs replaced bank tellers. Go back even further and you will see a history of innovation that is pockmarked by fearful predictions. Television was seen as a vast wasteland. Moving pictures, it was thought, would affect young men’s minds through their realistic depictions and fast edits. In the early years of the 20th Century, women were forbidden to use the telephone for fear that a strange man’s voice so close to their ears would be a threat to their virtue. And a movement was established in the U.S. to ban the motorcar on the grounds that bank robbers could now outrun the mounted police.
Marshall McLuhan himself once said that human beings tend to drive into the future with their eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror.
Many organizations of late have learned that the Internet, including Google and YouTube cannot be censored, a conundrum of brand protection that gave rise to a term called the Streisand Effect.
It is easy to hail each and every development in personal communications technology as another threat to personal liberty from on high, and often George Orwell’s Big Brother is bandied about. But generally, it seems that whenever there is a major public incident that includes violence and civil unrest, such as a fight, a riot or even examples of police brutality, it is the citizenry itself that stands around photographing the scenes and posting them immediately to TwitPic, Instagram or elsewhere.
How many people these days remember that the Internet was actually a U.S. government project, designed as an insurance policy against a cold-war nuclear strike? Or that the GPS that everyone relies on to find a Starbucks is based on triangulation from a ring of satellites that also once served an exclusively military purpose?
There is no question that we live in a society in which everything is observed and recorded. This has helped identify and track down all kinds of ne’er do wells, from insurance fraudsters to shoplifters to more dangerous types of criminals.
Though human liberty is a right that all people strive to attain, and those who have it immediately lock it into their constitutions, I believe this is a condition that is best preserved through open access of information and the freedom to record and observe the world around us. And whether people agree with this opinion or not, the odds are this blog entry will be painfully out-of-date by 2016, when you stumble across it on your own personal heads-up-display.