The Faustian bargain of the looking (Google) Glass

Yes, I do look that pale in person. And, yes, I am wearing a white button shirt. I do that.
Yes, I do look that pale in person.

As of a few minutes ago at the time of me typing this sentence, I’ll have played with a pair of Google Glass for about an hour or so. Between wearing it in an office, walking two city blocks with it on my head, and then holding conversations through it (using Hangouts), I’ve had a bit of whirlwind time trying out different things, seemingly talking to myself in public, and frequently oscillating between amusement and frustration at this new tech shiny. It’s all very interesting.

I joked as I ended my time just now that it reminded me of a personal demon, in a way. You know, not unlike the deal made between Faust and the Devil for knowledge and pleasures? Here was this, in my case, assistant that would look things up for me, take video from my perspective, and call people from my voice alone. All I needed to do was to summon it: “ok glass.”

Maybe that is a negative outlook on this technology. I mean, sure, it is very cool. I was making Ghost in the ShellStar Trek, and even Transmetropolitan references while I was trying things. It was not unlike Eye-5, getting text overlaid on my world. I had this constant window hovering in front of me. As I walked, it would tell me — literally, if I asked — the weather, local places to eat, and even how far I needed to travel. As a joke, I asked it once “how far is it to New York City?” It had the answer for me, of course.

Yet, the pessimist side of me knows a (probable) why behind the technology too. That, in order to get more information from people, Google is willing to invest in things like this. Even I, as a generally very private person, couldn’t help but record the world around me once they were on my head. I was taking pictures and recording video on a whim. And why not too, all that is needed is a handful of words to my constant companion, Glass.

“ok glass record video”

“ok glass take picture”

The impulse was that strong. With a push of a button, or just a few simple words, my world was captured for me. I was adding all number of things to the timeline on the device. Was getting it to read things aloud just for the fun of it. Contacts were being added just so that I could call them and show off my perspective. I was streaming me — the real-time, instantly-connected, at-this-very-moment Dan.

Which is what Google wants. And it’s not an evil impulse — well, not completely good either. But Google and other companies do want this constant input stream of the Present-to-instant-Past. It’s not unlike… Eden of the East, I guess. An ever-growing folksonomy of people cataloging, talking about, and sharing — always sharing — the world around them with others in public. Tagging, parsing, and generally logging any and all things in their path.

It’s the price of all this. The same one paid, yes, when signing up for other platforms like Twitter or Facebook too. You get this platform, this fancy tech, and they get, well, your soul. Okay, not exactly some metaphysical entity, but pretty close on a person-to-person level, actually. They get what you like, who you talk to, and your thoughts as recorded on the platform. All the bits that make you, you.

Of course, they are not interested in any one person either, as useful as that might be. They want the aggregate and the averages. Who at this time and place are interested in these things? In this general area, who buys what, is interested in what items, and talks to whom? What are the trends right now?

It’s all for the advertising. Not right now, of course, the model is not quite in place for how to do it. After all, the screen is kinda small and information needs to be cut into chunks to fit. Things need to be limited to only the most important and then streamed in as short messages.

But it is coming. Not unlike Tesco in the near-future, companies will want your location and what you are looking at currently to sell you things. “We see you are looking at grapes at the moment. Did you know there is sale on them one block away?” “The coffee in front of you is almost empty. Why not top-up with Coffee Brand (TM)?”

All of which is not written to paint a complete no-privacy dystopian picture either. There are possibilities for teaching, some of which I’ve talked to people about recently, that I think are really exciting. Content can be pushed to the devices to show a window into another world without a student leaving their seat. Back channels of information exchange between parties — if one student needs an explanation of certain material, for example — are very easy. Without turning their head, a professor or student can receive instant updates.

Still, I don’t know. It is both exciting and worrying. Thrilling and terrifying. I felt at times both free to display my view of the world and utterly chained to the whims of the device, bargaining even — “Okay, glass. Okay, Glass. OKAY, GLASS” — for functionality, for just a little more time. I could do all number of amazing things, as long as it let me do it.