My brother was half texting, half engaged in our conversation…but mainly texting. We have become pros at teasing out discussions with grunts of approval and agreement.
He wore his pair of retro Ray-Ban Wayfarers while looking down at his iPhone on the table. Using the trajectory of technology as a flight path for where we may be years down the line, he may, one day, be staring straight at me with a chat window slid open along the side my face like a flap on a jack-in-the-box, courtesy of the display built into his designer shades.
This freaks me out a bit. What if he were to have a YouTube clip overlaying my face, focusing on it rather than on me whilst I spoke into the ether? What if he were taking a picture that made my face look bulging and disproportionate and posting it online, all while I waxed poetic about the fucking meaning of life?
There’s increasing discussion online about wearable computers, and the public availability of Google Glass seems to be approaching with its eye-mounted screens sooner than expected — indeed, they’re already here.
Two words: Terminator 2.
Screens and hard lines take up more of my day than the “imperfect” shapes and paths of the world that surrounds me. A resistant latecomer, I bought my first smartphone just this year and now find my eyes reluctantly drawn to it, scrolling through largely irrelevant updates about the unimportant, adding its electronic, bouncy chirp to my day’s soundscape.
I understand the value in being able to connect with people and have instant access to information, but I feel a severed connection with everything that doesn’t interact with me through transparent plastic.
I have no doubt I’ll be an old man who gets left behind by the slippery advance of technology. And that doesn’t bother me much. When my grandpa first heard about the computer, he probably mouthed similar expletives as I did when I heard about Glass.
The device kinda resembles a knock-off version of Geordi’s visor in Star Trek. I like to imagine it as special eye-ware for thorough dentists who want to record their oral triumphs. Through verbal and touchpad interaction, the user will be able to get directions, translations, search keywords, and have a video chat, amongst other things, all from the comfort of their own face. Many people have already gotten a chance to use the product after applying through the #ifihadglass campaign.
The first real-world use of Glass I saw gave me a positive introduction to the product. It was a report on the protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, seen from the first-person perspective of a young journalist. Imagine what this could mean for citizen journalism, I thought. The device is able to record and upload live footage and isn’t as glaringly obvious as shoving a camera phone in someone’s face.
But every time I look down the line at where it’s all going, the old doubts come back. Glass is still quite a noticeable product, but spectacle companies and tech giants are looking into making the technology less cumbersome and visible. Innovation will no doubt march on, and we’ll probably be more mesmerised and intrigued by its advances and the capabilities of new gadgets than by the loss of privacy in a world that is becoming increasingly digitized.
There has been uproar in the past about major cities like London becoming nests of CCTV. If wearable computers shrink, as they’re likely to do — to the size of a contact lens, for example — then unless seriously intricate and practiced privacy laws are undertaken, everything will become an upload waiting in the wings. With all the recent leaks of government espionage revealing the stolen privacy of individuals, the continued invasion of our space and closer monitoring of our personal exchanges is inevitable.
I have no delusions of grandeur. I don’t think I’m a hot target for online frenzies and uploads. I just don’t like the idea of the public becoming walking camcorders. I don’t think being captured in a photo steals your soul, but I think a constant record of public and private life will suck the soul and adventure out of living.
Technology will move along, and our intrigue will inevitably outweigh our scepticism. The main gripe I have (as someone who will probably be an unenthusiastic latecomer to wearable computing) with this latest development, though, is the fact that, on a purely personal level, I feel overrun by our virtual existence. We have so many means of documenting, liking, and commenting on life, and yet we seem to be less physically engaged in the presences that surround us than ever before.
Talib Kweli recently tweeted, “I feel like I’m a part of a generation who possess the most urgent need to express themselves, but have the least to say.” And, sadly, I agree.