Imagine this: You are a politician on the stump or a public servant addressing a meeting, and you make the most embarrassing Freudian slip, Spoonerism or malapropism imaginable. In normal circumstances, if that address was not covered by the media, it would be something that could be apologised for on the spot, or something that would be quickly forgiven or forgotten.
But what if everyone at this meeting had their own camcorder, recording every second of it? And what if that camcorder was simultaneously linked to one of the world’s most popular online video channels, and that your embarrassing mistake could be edited and shared with the wider world within a matter of seconds? And what if that footage irrevocably damaged that your career, and made you a public figure of ridicule in perpetuity? Well imagine no more, for that reality is here; welcome to the world of Google Glass.
Google Glass will represent the next epoch in social media, for soon people will not even have to use their phones to get online or broadcast to the world; all they will have to do is look. For those who are not familiar with the concept of Google Glass, it is an augmented reality wearable computer with a head-mounted display (HMD). It takes a step further toward ubiquitous computing, which is the idea that the Internet and computers will be accessible anywhere at any time without having to use one’s hands.
The functions of Google Glass are akin to that of a smartphone, and is arguably the next evolutionary step on from Apple’s Siri, where one can interact with the Internet through a series of voice commands.
Although the current concept models do not have prescription lenses fitted to the frames, it is rumoured that Google is considering partnering with sunglass retailers such as Ray-Ban or Warby Parker. In addition, the product is likely to be used by Google as a beachhead in the battle of the high street, tackling head-on the Apple Store concept.
Google Glass and the way we create and consume content
It is easy to see that Google Glass marks a radical shift in how we can access online content as well as generating new content of our own. In time, one can imagine an iteration of this technology doing away with the traditional screen, whether it be a the old fashioned monitor, the laptop screen, the tablet or the mobile phone. Why have these screens, when you can directly view content on the screen? Keyboards could wireless hook up with a product such as Google Glass, and maybe the technology will see a move away from the reliance on the written word as we increasingly send video or audio content to each other, as it will be so much easier and quicker to generate than typing.
The possible ramifications for society as a whole have really still yet to be thought through, although science fiction has frequently speculated about the omniscient surveillance society, often in dystopian terms. In The Entire History of You, an episode from Charlie Brooker’s superb Black Mirror anthology series, a man is driven to psychotic paranoia due to a Social Media-style type implant that allows him to record and rewatch his every waking moment, resulting in him to constantly revisit the footage for perceived slights and infidelities in both his professional and personal life.
Aside from the impact in the personal sphere, the potential for its abuse by a totalitarian or an authoritarian state is huge. Imagine just how much worse (if such a thing is possible) Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China would have been if such a technology had been developed then? In fact, you don’t need to; George Orwell eerily prefigured the psychology of that revolution and the technology today in his seminal Nineteen Eighty-Four.
But maybe there is a flipside? Could authoritarian regimes flourish if a technology such as Google Glass was widespread within a society? Would the Arab Spring have been even more ferocious and genuinely revolutionary? We are in the realms of speculation here and, as with all scientific breakthroughs, it is not the resultant technology itself that is either inherently bad or inherently good; it is the morality of the people who use it that is the deciding factor.
Even now, prior to Google Glass becoming a widespread reality, Social Media is having seismic ramifications for the Establishment here in Britain. Political Party discipline is severely frayed by the mass adoption of Twitter, public figures are subject to speculation of the worst kind on sometimes the flimsiest of pretexts, and services (of both a public and customer variety) are lambasted (justly and unjustly) for their perceived shortcomings.
The Glass half full?
While social media can be empowering to the individual and to certain interest groups, it is immediately apparent that it is no arbiter of truth and justice. As some have commented, there is a lynch mob mentality to much of the debate on a network such as Twitter, where the accuser is immediately believed over the accused, and those that tweet or post in the largest numbers are automatically perceived to be in the right. Society or, more specifically, the calibre of public debate is in a perilous state, and social media technologies and the uses thereof need to mature a bit more if they are not to become the online habitat of the ‘New Jacobin’.
And this is the situation we find ourselves in prior to the widespread adoption of a technology such as Google Glass, which will inevitably speed up all the online processes and behaviours this article has already covered. While some may adopt the Panglossian view that such technology will herald a Golden Age of Transparency & Accountability, this author remains sceptical.
Due to marketing memes of a perfect, achievable world and a prurient and embittering Tabloid Press culture (that is now widespread throughout mainstream media on both sides of the political spectrum), people now seem to expect public figures, services and corporations to live up to infallible standards of perfection, and are roundly lambasted for any shortfall in meeting expectations.
Sometimes that ire is fully justified (as in the case of the UK authorities’ handling of the Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath) but more often than not failings are born out of genuine mistakes rather than conscious, predetermined neglect. If all our failings are now going to be recorded and distributed for prosperity via social media, are we all going to be damned by the online lynch mob for each and every single one of them?
At the start of this article, I hypothesised about a politician’s or a public official” slip up being recorded and distributed instantaneously by a member of the public, with some significant resultant professional damage to that public figure, but we already have had this to a certain degree through the mainstream media for some time now. Whether it is Richard Nixon sweating profusely in his presidential debates with John F. Kennedy, the clumsiness of Gerald Ford or Mitt Romney damning half of the American electorate, such damage is routinely dealt out. However, this author’s position is that we are all fallible and prone to error, as are all politicians and public officials, and we will all therefore slip up or err on at least one occasion. In what, in effect, will become a 24 hour surveillance culture, it is inevitable that more and more of these failings will be made public online.
Politics, Society, Google Glass and our expectations of them all
If we are all destined to fail or disappoint at some point, and if in all likelihood these failings are going to be publicly broadcast, does our culture (especially the one online) need to mature and modify our expectations of society as a whole? For if we damn one individual for one very public failing with no obvious recourse to redemption, who on Earth are we going to have at the head of our public institutions? Where are these infallible leaders and individuals who we seek and demand? The cognitive dissonance of expectation and reality has never been so noisy, despite people having access to more information and knowledge than at any other point in human history. Our cultural and political expectations have become skewered somehow, and Social Media seems to be exacerbating, rather than easing, the situation.
As the private and personal domains retreat into the sunset as Google Glass casts its omniscient gaze over the world, we now need to have a honest debate with ourselves and with each other as to what we can realistically expect from the political and public service sphere. For if we don’t recalibrate our expectations, one wonders what false, dangerous prophet will emerge to meet them.
Nick Lewis Communications can provide training in social media marketing as well as offer professional management of social media feeds. To find out, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07970 839137.