Am I a Glasshole? Or Are You a Self-Absorbed, Irrational Luddite?
An open letter to the minority of people who oppose the wearing of Google Glass in public.
Dear waiter, Costco cashier, random Whole Foods shopper and angry man on the street and everyone else with the gall to ask me and Glass wearers I know to approach a stranger and insist that we not wear Glass because you don’t want to be photographed:
First: Sorry about the headline. I don’t like name calling. But you started it, calling me a Glasshole, and all….
There are three kinds of reactions to Google Glass. The majority of people who see Google Glass are simply indifferent. Some have an awareness about what it is. Others don’t. But either way, they have other things to occupy their attention.
The largest minority is curious about it. Some give us a look that says: “Hey, I know what that is! I read about that.” Others approach to confirm: “Is that the Google Glasses thing?” Some want to try it. Others grill us about how it works. Congratulations! Curiosity is the mark of an intelligent and active mind!
And then there’s the self-righteous, busy-body minority who feels violated because we wear a camera on glasses headsets rather than in a smartphone. This is less than one percent. But it’s a vocal and misguided faction.
If you’re one of these people — if you’ve ever approached a Google Glass wearer and asked them not to video or photograph you — I have a few questions I’d like to ask you:
1. Why would I want a picture of you?
What would I do with a picture or video of you standing there in a public place? And lets say I did do something with it — let’s say I uploaded it to Facebook and shared it publically: “Look everyone! A stranger standing there eating an ice cream cone!” — how would that harm you?
2. Why do you care about people seeing you when people already see you?
If someone takes a picture through your bathroom window, or hides a spy cam in a bathroom, or takes a picture up someone’s skirt — that’s obviously an outrageous and unacceptable invasion of privacy. But at Costco, you’re in public. Hundreds or thousands of people will see you. They could even remember seeing you (they won’t) or take a picture of you with their smartphones (they won’t) and, sure, I could take a picture of you with glass — but I won’t. You act like you’re concerned about your privacy but we’re both in public here. This isn’t a privacy situation.
3. Where are the privacy-violating Glass videos?
It’s rational to be concerned about something we’ve all seen. For example, we’ve all seen car accidents. We’ve all read about phone surveillance by the NSA. We’ve all seen how dumb TV is. These are things we’re concerned about because we’ve seen them. So where are the privacy-violating Google Glass videos? Yes, the Internet is lousy with privacy violating photos and videos… Taken by smartphones, mostly — you know, the device you’re NOT concerned about?
4. You do realize that everyone has a camera, right?
Here at the mall where you asked me to remove Google Glass, you realize that nearly every single one of these 500 people we can see all around us has a smartphone with a camera in it, don’t you? Cameras are pointed at us all the time. The guy next to me at Starbucks gets up from his laptop to fetch another latte, and his laptop’s webcam is pointed right at me. The lady over there taking a selfie — wait a minute, the selfie camera is pointed at her but the back camera is pointed at me! OMG! Look, there’s a surveillance camera. And — wow! — that person over there has an actual camera! Everyone has a camera. Some have two. Others have three. They’re everywhere.
5. You do know that spy cameras are widespread and easy to get, right?
Glasses with cameras hidden inside are easy to get, and they’re far more common than you think. Here’s a quick look at the available selection. Come to think of it you can also buy wristwatches with hidden cameras, baseball caps with hidden cameras, and every imaginable object outfitted with a spy camera. These fit into a category of products called spy gadgets. And their intended use is to photograph or video people without their knowledge or permission. Google Glass is the opposite of these products. With spy gadgets, people think it’s not taking pictures when it is. With Google Glass, people think it’s taking pictures when it’s not (the battery would die in an hour with constant video). Google Glass is conspicuous and obvious. It lights up when you take pictures or video — you can not only see a light, you can actually see the image. It’s not disguised as something else, or intended to spy. You can’t take images unless you’re directly and obviously facing the person. It’s irrational to treat something as its opposite.
6. Do you see Google Glass as a license to tell other people what to do?
Remember bullies at school? There were two kinds. The first kind was the regular bullies who just pushed people around. The second bully was the self-righteous bully, crafty enough to bully only in circumstances where their abuse could be justified as a moral act. “I was pounding Tommy’s face into the playground asphalt because he threw a Twinkie wrapper on the ground. We have to protect the planet!” It’s human nature to want to tell other people what to do. Just look at television. Most dramas are about authority — about who’s in charge. House of Cards. The Walking Dead. Every cop show. We fantasize about power. We actively seek out media fantasies about power. And the definition of power is making other people do what they don’t want to do. I have a feeling that the people who tell others to not use or wear Google Glass believe that their irrational claims of wanting to not be photographed are enough reason for them to force somebody else to do something.
7. Don’t you think cameras in the hands of the public is an overwhelmingly good thing?
We’re all concerned about the topic of the decade, which is surveillance, including mass surveillance by the NSA. It’s a pervasive anxiety. But when you see someone wearing Google Glass — that’s not part of the problem. That’s part of the solution. The solution to misused technology is properly used counter-technology — not for us all to return to the past and have no technology. I wrote a column six years ago called “I want to live in a surveillance society.” My point in that piece was that we need to fight for our right to surveil the surveillers. If the police can record video of their traffic stop through their dash cams, then we should have the right to record that encounter as well. The problem with surveillance is in part an imbalance in access and permission to use technology. If we have anxiety about the surveillance state, then we should all support cameras and microphones in the hands of the public, ready to use in case some abuse of authority surveillance takes place.
So confronting us Google Glass wearers with demands that we not wear or use the camera on Google Glass while in public is self-absorbed, irrational, misguided and wrong.
Yes, I’m wearing Google Glass. I’m also minding my own business. So please do the same.
Mike, the Glasshole