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At first, I thought Google Glass was a smartphone terminator – consider how many functions/components it has taken from a smartphone: messages are sent via voice control, information is displayed on the glasses like screen, and pictures/videos are captured by a first person view camera. Time Magazine recognized it as one of the “Best Inventions of the Year 2012”, yet this pair of glass would not be much of an invention, but an assemblage of existed media. Wait a second, isn’t this re-mediation? When McLuhan pointed out that all media were extensions of men, did he realize that all media would also be extensions of media themselves? I am hoping that Debray’s Mediology method will help me in the following analysis.
The picture below shows an earlier version of the design of Google glass. And now it is as light as a few ounces but is implanted with a hands-off HD camera, a touchpad on the side of Glass to navigate, an oval speaker on the inside of the battery pod, a transparent LCD which could show information on the plastic cube in front of the user’s right eye. The interaction between the Google glass technology and human works mainly through the voice commands – which will certainly remind us of “siri”. It has support for Wi-Fi and blue tooth, and even allows USB charging and has 12 GB memory that syncs information to Google Cloud. Insofar these technologies may sound advanced, but none of them seems surprising or innovative to me, since I have experienced similar things earlier on an iPhone. If so, why are people crazy about it? What gives the assemblage device so much significance?
A major difference between the Glass and an iPhone is that the hands-free camera on the Glass is from first person point of view, so that what we record is what we see, and we are able to capture the world ahead of us more frequently. With the constant capture, the Glass appears to be a dangerous one. We can hardly be aware of whether we are being monitored, and may fall into a panopticon like what we’ve learned in 506. The “hands-free” is now making us action-limited, and even mentally stressed.
A few weeks ago I discussed the bad sides of Facebook, one of which argues how social media makes people so addicted to it that weakens our interpersonal relationship/communication. Sherry Turkle, the MIT scholar called this situation “Alone Together”. As for Google Glass, while it provides us more effective and efficient information, it also brings us more info-glut. The augmented reality function makes the Glass possible to become a “good-helper” of human beings – like the saying “Human’s idleness will bring us to the new technology”, but I doubt that whether we are truly closer to the reality. Like the Google Arts Project, Benjamin would say the loss of aura is a good thing, since it allows us to be creative and share information to wider audience. However, imagine that I am standing in front of the metro entrance, instead of stepping in to check the next train, I ask my Glass first: “ok, glass, when does next blue line train come?” At this point, are we closer to the real metro, or being more drifted apart from it by the technology we love? If I can ask the Glass to translate Chinese to English, is there any need for me to learn English at the first place? This comes to my big concern: Google glass is likely to drive us apart from the real world and from each other. We don’t want the Glass to have negative effects on the human-human interaction while we are busy with the human-technology interaction.
Interface – A Glass Without Glass
One funny thing about Google Glass is that it is called “glass” but only applies the frame of a real glass, not the original function, concept and material of glasses – it won’t protect your eyes. This design pattern happens all the time in other kinds of digital media. A photo editing software is called “Photoshop” while it barely has anything to do with buying or selling photos; an E-book always has zoom-in function while we can never zoom-in with our fingers when reading a real book. In the new media/ digitalized world, the interface is not only a channel for us to communicate with the product, but also an alternative interpretation of the real things. This points to the new meaning making of new media, which I’ve found really fascinating. Google Glass may have the chance to become a symbol, a cultural representation in the post-Google era.
Now it seems to be an endless topic to talk about. I’ll have to pause and say: “okay, glass, post a blog.”
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility“ (1936; rev. 1939).
Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.
Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” (Excerpts from Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Part I, 2nd Edition; originally published, 1964).