Future tech now, part 2: People be crazy

If yesterday’s post could have been called “excited about new things” or “anticipation,” this one might be “people be crazy” or whatyou looking’ at Willis?” I caught a teaser on the local news about a local restaurant that is banning Google Glass use and that brought the whole technophobia issue home for me. I still don’t have Google Glass yet, but it is due to be delivered Friday.

Apparently, enough people are creeped out by  what they see as the possibility for increased ease of surveillance via Google Glass that Google has done a press release. A typical article based on the press release is this one from PC Magazine that warns, “Don’t be creepy,” while the news release from Google the later stories are based on is more about Glass Etiquette. So, I am reading where people (journalists) say to wear it and where to take it off and I’m feeling a familiar feeling about this, although that feeling is not a comfortable one. This feels like every last time I was an early adopter. People be crazy.

I remember having a cell phone in 1990 or 1991 when I was a Realtor. I did not get the Motorola brick because I wanted a phone that would fit in my purse, so I paid more to get a reasonably-sized one. It was about half the size of a portable phone handset. The most maddening thing that people would do was to say, “Aren’t you afraid I’m going to call Europe with this?” or Better watch out–I may call France!” I really got tired of that. Did they hover over people using the phone in their house, their landline, checking the number of punches or times the rotary dial rolled round? Of course not.  I started saying, I could do the same with the phone in your house. Does that worry you?” That would generate the famous blank stare. How could it be the same when it was so different?

So, since wearing Glass looks different, it must be different. Of course it isn’t really, at least not in the ways that are generating fear. It does not run on brainwaves. It will not do streaming video, although I think it would be easy to find a workaround for that. I honestly can’t think of a single thing it does that a smartphone can’t do, but it is not the same as a smartphone. We are in that moment now where the iPad used to be. Some people expected it to be a computer replacement while others saw it as a smartphone that couldn’t make calls. It is neither, and I still have a hard time explaining  why the iPad is my go-to tool for teaching and the best companion for conference travel. It is the moment of remediation, where new tech is judged by what previous technology did and then judged wanting because it is not the same.

I like new things. I like trying new things out. I think that no one knows what Glass is good for yet, and that the answer won’t be one sentence long. One thing I do expect is that it will be an extremely personal device, something that stretches its abilities to fit the user’s needs in a similar way that smartphones do with their apps. Glass has apps too, and I have some ideas about what I want it to do. This degree of tech/human hybridity will make some people uncomfortable. As Donna Haraway points out in The Cyborg Manifesto, creating discomfort is natural for a cyborg, and at that time, she was not thinking then of actual human/tech hybrids. Join that discomfort with the awful clueless geek stereotype and things like bizarre bans happen.

I am hoping that since I am using the prescription frames, I will not stand out as much. I am also hoping that this is one time that the gender issue will work in my favor. I may appear less threatening with my white-streaked hair, my makeup, and just being female. I know quite well that I do not appear to be what I am, which is a Ph.D. -wielding university professor who specializes in Computers and Writing, especially social media. Those who don’t know me are likely to think that confessing technology discomfort or saying “Isn’t it amazing what kids today can do?” will put me at my ease and create a bond.  Even though their words make me flinch, I’ve learned to be nice and hide it. That will help me now, because Google Glass plays into generations of cyborg fear.

It also doesn’t help that the United States is currently in the midst of a wave of surveillance fear. Of course, the real time to act on that fear was right after 9/11 when so many of our rights were snatched away in the name of national security. For me, the real surveillance fear for Glass is not for the people near the Glass user, but for the user her/himself. It is an incredibly intrusive device that probably should have a disclosure tag on it saying “Check your personal privacy at the door. We now own your hide. Love, Google.” However, once again, when was that battle fought? I have nearly full Google integration and I don’t care. Is Google that interested in me personally? No. As a member of an aggregate? Possibly. Once again, I  am going into this with my eyes open and want to think deeply about my private/public self as a matter for reflection and research. To do so while maintaining my own privacy as inviolate is unreasonable and undoable.

Google is known for long betas and this is one time I think it is justified. The next step past Explorers seems to be in the mold of how Gmail grew.  I got an email inviting me to send in names for an invitation, just like the beginning days of Gmail. I think that is a good way to grow a project like this rather than to offer it for sale while how it can be used it still being worked out. Here’s to slow growth and increased public familiarity.

 

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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