Google Glass: neither utopian or dystopian, but a small, combinatorial step


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by Alexis Hamann-Nazaroff

Google Glass –I’d never heard of this specific product until this class assignment, but of course, I’d run across the general idea.  Augmented Reality is a staple of science fiction fantasy scenarios.  I watched the official demo video and noticed that in this case, my first reaction is less the technophile, over-the-moon-with excitement sort, rather, it fills me with a sense of dread – a lump in my gut telling me that Google Glass will bring on a life of detachment from reality, and of inescapable technology-addictions.

Neither the excited nor the doom vision is really an appropriate reaction to this technology.  To get a grip on these reactions we should ask: What of Google Glass is really new?  How does this technology interact as a node in the contemporary network of media technologies and technological position in everyday life?  What social/cultural functions does this interface mediate?

–       Google Glass does not (as far as I can tell) execute any functions have not already been developed in aps for smart phones over the past few years.  Just as the smart phone was mostly not new, but a combinatorial device already available in cell phones, cameras, personal computers, music players etc., making these functions more practical, so Google Glass takes the search for practical one step further.  These functions are now hands free, and voice activated.

–       Google is not the first company to come up with the idea.  Like I mentioned before, the abstract concept has a long history in fiction.  And even actual functioning prototypes were created before Google, for example the iterations of the “Digital Eye Glass” created by Steve Mann in the 1980s and 1990s.  The reason Google Glass can be marketed as revolutionary is that Google has a lot of clout and power through its social positioning.  What Google says will be heard loud and clear (that what a no-name computer inventor may say is less audible has nothing to do with the quality of product he invents and everything to do with his lack of social power.)

–       Google Glass can come out and be accepted as an exciting new invention today in a way it could not have a decade or even a few years ago.  Technology doesn’t take leaps, it takes small, combinatorial steps.  We understand how Google Glass could fit into our lives because we are socialized into fitting smart-phones into our lives.