Not-So Private Eyes

Last week I was having one of those random conversations with a colleague that occur when you both need to take a break from doing whatever task it is that you’re attempting to accomplish. Specifically, we were talking about Google Glass, because only days before I had experienced my second encounter with Google Glass “in the wild.” My experience had been during a professional networking dinner. During this dinner, I had been disabused of the notion that Glass requires a verbal command from it’s user to do things like record video or take photos. I had learned that, with a few taps on a connected tablet, images and video could be taken with no one else in the room any the wiser.

I still suffer a bit of a creep factor when thinking about Glass.

This led to a discussion of how often we are recorded each day. Which led to talking about the absence of the expectation of privacy in a public place, which is how traffic cameras and the like are both legally and ethically justified. Glass is different, though, because being with someone who is wearing it degrades our expectation of privacy in private spaces, something to which we have previously been entitled.

My colleague thinks that recording everything has positive implications, because video records are the ultimate historian. The camera, in theory, doesn’t lie (although it’s amazing what can happen to the truth with a few edits).  His perspective is that history would be preserved more accurately if everything were recorded at all times.

Well, theoretically, its difficult to disagree with him there, although one would have to wonder how history would account for the negative space (you could watch someone do something, but perhaps never piece together why they had done what they did).

Stepping beyond the theory into the realm of the pragmatic, however, I think that there’s another issue at play. John Twelve Hawks toys with the idea in his novel, The Traveler, the idea of the panopticon. In society, just as in Bentham’s prison, people will always behave as though they’re being watched if they believe that they are, or could be, watched at any given time.

My concern is that we are already languishing in a culture that is driven by appearance, eschews depth whenever possible, and brands and markets everything, including people.  With that level of shallowness already in place, what are the implications of feeling as though we are watched all the time? What would be our reaction? Could we ever be (to use an over-used expression) authentic with anyone again? The potential social damage of Glass goes beyond even more immersion in data from an augmented reality technology. It threatens to bring a decline to what are already tenuous human relationships that occur only on the periphery of our screens.

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