During today’s stunt-filled Google Glass demo, I found myself inexplicably perturbed — even profoundly depressed.
The charismatic Sergey Brin sprinted onstage at Google I/O, wearing the futuristic device; he was joined by extreme sportsters and a redheaded product lead who looked every inch the 24th-century power-creative. Together, they showed the possibilities offered by Glass: constant connectivity, a human’s-eye view of every aspect of life, sharing without ceasing.
The crowd of nerdcore developers and press exploded in applause at every interval. They were eating it up.
I felt like a curmudgeon sitting just a few rows from the stage with my arms crossed and a frown creased into my face. But I also didn’t feel like cheering.
The Internet loves to call me a Luddite; to the extent a tech blogger can be a Luddite, this might be somewhat true. I only carry a feature phone. I’ve given up on smartphones, and I don’t use a tablet. While I live in a fully wired castle of technology, I like to get offline as much as possible. But I still use the web and web-connected devices every day, to do my job, to enjoy movies, to listen to music. I love technology as a means to an end, the end being a full and happy life.
But this Google Glass bit gives me pause. What Brin et al. showcased was the ability to pretty much lifecast à la iJustine and that ilk of early Web 2.0 pseudo-cyborgs. It’s all social, and it’s all about sharing.
But I’m concerned that, more and more, we tech-obsessed few are starting to share without asking why we’re sharing in the first place. Everything from our food to our kids to our locations gets plastered onto the web, even though there’s very little impetus to do so aside from vanity. We’re sharing for sharing’s sake, and I would have thought it might have grown a little stale by now.
For some of us, we’re convinced our Instagram snaps and Twitter quips are an art form, that our very special self-expression is unique, witty, and brimming with creative value.
But in reality, very few of us are the Oscar Wilde or the Georgia O’Keefe of the digital age. We’re spewing wave upon wave of drivel into the ether, convinced that our sharing has some moral merit.
Still others insist that their streams keep them in touch with family and friends. This argument — and one of the more powerful use cases demonstrated for Google Glass this morning — is more difficult to dismiss.
Yet are even our friends and family to be subjected to this constant barrage of updates, pictures, and statuses? Even a new baby can be overexposed by a boasting mother; even your closest friends don’t really freaking care what you ate for breakfast.
For every conscientious, conservative user of social media, there are 50 other poseurs, oversharers, humble-braggarts. And if we spend as much time consuming as we spend creating this content, we’re taking an awful lot of time to be social, to parade our own vanity and absorb the self-fascination of our connections.
After watching many of my peers over the years become more and more attached to their smartphones, to their services, to the thoughts and opinions of others, I’m concerned that we techsters are becoming so social that we’re starting to lose our sense of individuality and ability to think and function independently.
Of course, the really interesting use cases for Glass haven’t been shown yet and have little to do with broadcast. These use cases go beyond sharing and allow for retrieval of valuable, possibly non-social information.
But Glass as it was shown today is another disturbing step toward an all-social, always-on web of connectivity that isn’t a means to an end as much as it is a cause in and of itself. It’s the hive mind, and in many ways, it’s already here.
Of course, I’m likely going to pre-order Google Glass, either for my gadget-obsessed partner or for the VentureBeat staff.
After all, resistance is futile.
Photo credit: Chris Chabot/Google