Pass on the Glass

 

With the advent of Google Glass — a pair of Cyclops-looking spectacles with a wearable computer screen infused into the lenses — Google manages to further our generation’s self-obsessed vices more so than smartphones have ever done before. 

The innovative device will blur the line between the virtual world and the physical world, effectively turning wearers’ experiences and sensations into sharable clips. With its hands-free mobility and voice control, users can now merely say, “Ok glass, record now,” and the gadget will record whatever their eyes see. “Ok gadget, post on Facebook,” and Google Glass will post the video of the past five seconds for the world. Camera, video recorder, instant messenger, Facebook, YouTube, Google+ Hangouts — these are but a few of the gadget’s numerous functions that allow for extreme documentation of the most mundane, daily events. These features feed into young adults’ obsession and semi-delusional mindset that impulses them to be connected online at all times.

The National Institute of Health found in a criminalizing 2008 study that individuals in their 20s are three times as likely than older generations to harbor narcissistic personality disorder, with 58 percent more college students scoring higher on the narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982. The report defines the disorder as a “pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, interpersonal exploitiveness and lack of empathy.” These qualities are well represented in a typical young adult’s Facebook newsfeed where private matters are made public to garner attention and “likes” from friends and acquaintances. 

Those using Google Glass run the risk of succumbing to the observer effect, a phenomenon in experimental research in which the mere knowledge of being observed can alter how one acts. The same effect must be considered if Google Glass becomes a mainstream commodity. The observer bias already pervades social interactions today: People spend more time at social functions recording videos and taking selfies with their friends than any other generation. And with social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, in which a user’s worth and credibility are only measured in the currency of likes, friends and followers, the pressure to capture the perfect shot in the perfect light and angle trumps all else.

Before Facebook, hanging out with friends meant creating memories that could only be recalled by the people involved in making the memory. Nowadays, there is a higher desire to socially interact for the sole purpose of sharing than for anything else. Google Glass feeds into these exhibitionist tendencies — all interactions will no longer be moments in time but rather videos that will be recorded and replayed. 

And not only that, no one other than the Google Glass wearer will know if the lens is recording or not. Not knowing whether he or she is on camera may be the most unnerving and debilitating aspect of Google Glass — unless the observed participant truly does not care about being immortalized in some moment in time, all of his or her decisions and actions may always be inhibited and calculated. Every action, every decision and every interaction may be well-documented performances. 

Even in its beta stage of development in which people are paid to play with the device, Google Glass is already running into privacy concerns. San Francisco-based Lambda Labs announced it is developing a Google Glass facial recognition Application Programming Interface. In response, Google confirmed a few days later that it would not allow developers to create facial recognition apps for fear of privacy issues. Regardless of Google’s mandate, hackers’ successes in software development are notoriously rampant (think jailbreaking for iPhones). No press statement from Google headquarters can quiet the fact that Google Glass is just another piece of hardware for software hackers to thrive on and take full advantage of.

However, despite Google Glass’s invasive capabilities and possibly debilitating effects on social interactions and self-esteem, the gadget may have a redeeming quality. Current research suggests that Google Glass could be used to clinically diagnose autism. One of the earliest signs of autism in children include lack of eye contact and delayed eye-tracking movements for objects in motion. The technology used to track eye movements, according to Technorati, can be “expensive, cumbersome and not very mobile.” However, Google Glass has a built-in eye-tracking device and — with the collaboration of software developers — could turn the gadget into an eye-tracking diagnosis tool.

Back in the early years of middle school, camera phones roused cries of privacy concerns — and now, a mobile phone is perceived as inadequate if it does not include a camera lens. Google Glass may represent a step forward in computer technology, but it ultimately has negative social implications in the long term.

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