Glassholes

Earlier today, I tweeted:

 

Which seemed to me to be a pretty non-radical point to make. But given the responses I’ve garnered, it looks like a brief expansion of the thought might be worth it on my part. So here’s my take on it:

I find the term dismissive, and moreover, deliberately insulting. “Glasshole” seems to be used as a hand-waving way of not actually discussing the technology behind Glass and instead relying on ad hominem in its place. Full disclosure: I’m fascinated by the possibilities, and given a pair, I’d happily wear Glass around and see where it was useful, how it could enhance or detract from my interactions with information and technology. But I simply do not grok the casual dismissal of them for their appearance or even for the privacy concerns that many have regarding them. It looks to me like the obvious next-step of the ever-more-personal technologies of the last 2 decades, just like it seems pretty obvious that wearable computing is a natural result of Moore’s law when combined with ubiquitous networking.

I am a technological determinist when it comes to the progress of hardware, I fully admit. Technology will continue to get faster, smaller, cheaper, and it will continue to use less and less power to do these things. This results in strange and unusual things, some of which will be wearable things that communicate with us and the world around us in ways that may seem foreign to us here and now. But so did walking down the street talking on the phone at one point in our near-past technological history.

Clay Shirky said in Here Comes Everybody that “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.” Right now, Glass is technologically interesting. Yes, it will have social implications, but the really interesting bits (the bits that I think are worth talking about) are emergent after the technology is already in place. We didn’t get the Arab Spring without a bit of a perfect storm of technologies that had become commonplace…the cellular phone, SMS, Twitter. Glass is one tiny, tiny step towards truly immersive connectivity. What will that do to society, to interactions, to information? Will we end up with Strange Days or with Rainbows End? Or with the corporatized information future that William Gibson warned us about? I just don’t know. But I’m incredibly uncomfortable seeing a term used that denigrates the user of a technology, especially a brand new technology, when we’ve got no idea how it’s going to turn out to be useful, or not. I’m never going to be ok with insulting another human being as a part of a discussion.

5 thoughts on “Glassholes

  1. In turning this towards the actual technology, this rollout has the same feel as Google Plus. Specifically, an engineering solution to the question of being social online. While Plus has changed over time to integrate certain changes, the circles seem like a cacophony of online noise in which only the loudest voices (read: celebrities, online or otherwise) can actually get feedback or conversation. Perhaps I’ve been using it in wrong way since I don’t invest much time in it.

    But Google Glass seems to follow that path: it’s an engineering solution to the question of wearable computers that seems to lack a, well, human touch. It seems so sterile and technological that it loses its appeal for me that way. Whatever it is, for me it doesn’t foster the personal connection that should exist between me and the devices I choose to carry.

    To his credit, Steve Jobs was a person who could take the Star Trek kind of tech that Apple produced and made it make sense in a person’s life, be it at home, in their office, or on the go. I don’t see that here at all.

    That picture of Scoble showering with it is the Howard Dean scream of this product rollout for wearable computers. Sure, it’s nice to know it’s waterproof, but man, that was one ha-ha creepy picture. Wearable is coming, but my feeling is that this is not the product that pushes the tipping point.

  2. The world seems to disagree though, finding “glasshole” funny AND useful. It’s rude– yes– in the same way that pointing your computer– or anything– at people without their consent is rude.

    I’m all for reaping the rewards of smaller/faster/cheaper technology, but we should look more closely at the relative failure of bluetooth headsets. Like Glass, they break a basic mode of human interaction: that when you’re looking at a person, you should be communicating with that person.

  3. I have absolutely zero doubt that there will be individuals who will be utter glassholes with this technology. You can almost hear all the creepshot people salivating.

    I think it is unfortunate – and kind of weird – that early adopters get so widely mocked. It seems completely at odds with our country’s self-professed love of innovation and entrepreneur spirit. It will be interesting to see if the mockery dissipates once people get a look (a la iPad) or keeps on ticking (a la Segway).

  4. Jeff: I have a more nuanced view than “pointing anything at people without their consent is rude”. In the US, at least, there is no expectation of privacy in public spaces, and no protection from photography in said spaces either. While there are situations where it may be rude, that line is fuzzy at best and is best determined by the individuals in the situation and not by the use of aggressive and angry language a priori to any situation whatsoever.

    I’m not sure at all what you mean by the “relative failure of bluetooth headsets”. Failure in what way? They are clearly a market success, seem to be a clearly useful bit of technology. That they are not fashionable in particular situations _is exactly my point_. Social norms will evolve to take care of this sort of technology, and we will *gasp* have to trust the people we interact with. It’s not necessary to, again, pre-judge the person absent any context, situation, or useful and evolved norm.

  5. Though there is no objective expectation of privacy in public spaces, there is a reasonable expectation of authenticity; our social interactions are largely predicated on expectations of honesty, transparency, attentiveness, fidelity, etc.. Sure, we routinely deal with the dishonest used car salesperson, the opaque bureaucrat, the inattentive two year old, or what have you, but our social norms are such that we change our behavior and deal with these people as deviations from the civic norm.

    And this is where Glass has yet to prove itself. Are Glass wearers interacting authentically? For example, if you were wearing Glass and came into my office, it might be reasonable for you to make some sort of declaration: “This is turned on/off” or “I’ll have the library website pulled up while we talk.” Or, it might be reasonable to expect that Glass wearers will ask before turning on/using Glass: “do you mind if I look that up?” But, none of this changes social norms, it’s all variations on the existing theme of getting permission before technological mediation. Even dropping the expectation that Glass users present themselves authentically doesn’t change social norms, it just creates a new category of social interaction and we develop new ways to deal with it.

    Now, if/when Glass reaches the same market penetration as smartphones, then I could see some real changes to social norms. Maybe we’d drop the expectation of authenticity? Maybe, as with smartphones, we’d learn how to interact with people who aren’t fully attentive? Hard to say. Like you said, we’ll have to learn to trust the people we interact with. But, Glass wearers still have the burden of evidence to show that they can be trusted or can coexist within existing norms or that the norms need to be changed in the first place.

    Clearly, at this stage, we can’t slap on some Glass and expect everyone to adjust their social norms to include Glass. All a Glass wearer can reasonably expect (outside of maybe Mountain View) is that they will be treated as a deviation from the social norms. So, I agree that we shouldn’t casually dismiss Glass wearers. But, we also can’t accept Glass uncritically. Again, the burden is on the Glass wearers to demonstrate that social norms should be expanded to include them. I do think we should let Glass try to prove itself. So, I don’t like seeing ‘glasshole’ thrown around to describe Glass wearers in general. But, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to use the word ‘glasshole(s)’ to describe all and only those Glass wearers who show wanton disregard for existing norms. Basically, it’s either “glasshole” or “that asshole who thinks that by wearing Glass he is somehow outside of the social expectations that everyone else in the room is abiding by and who thinks we should uncritically accept whatever douchey behavior he’s engaging in because he has a computer on his face.” I prefer the former.

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