Google Update: The Lady Or The Tiger

Gratifyingly, there seems to be a small backlash brewing against the evil device from that Eighties And Nineties Movie…and a nice list of problems with them is pleasant reading here.

But today, getting out of bed to embark on various travels, the first thought that flitted through my mind was not why busfare costs so goddamn much now, but…

…How are people who get prescription lenses for their Borg Glasses going to fare, when they are made to take them off?  It’s a neat little trap, really;  if you come to my house wearing them, you won’t be wearing them for long, so you’d better hope to God you don’t need them to see, right?  Perhaps it is, again, like the Tale Of One Red Cent — Google feeling very comfortable offloading problems of etiquette and capability onto the poor saps who either a) buy their crap, or b) elect not to buy it.  If you get prescription lenses for these things then you’re the most captive of captive audiences:  having spent a very pretty penny indeed, just to be unable to do without them.  So then what is it that I am supposed to do, then, for my friends who are stuck with appliances that affect me when they wear them?  The only thing I can do, is make them into former friends…

…In an interestingly pointless restaging of the argument about freedom of choice we already have about almost everything:  chili dogs, cigarettes, parking spots, restaurant dumpsters. jaywalking, pet ownership, recycling, alcohol sales, vegetarianism, soft-drink consumption, bicycle paths and government spending…art, obscenity…breast-feeding on airplanes, and browsing in bookstores…the list goes ever on, but AT LEAST in the current moment we are spared such “debate” about prostheses, eh?

“Please take off your leg, if you’re going to come in here.”

“Hearing aids are not permitted in the theatre.”

“Before we can admit you, you’ll need a note from your orthodontist.”

“This building is a Wheelchair-Free Zone…”

It’s a funny thing, because we never think about it:  there’s a whole layer of technology we use and benefit from every single day, that is essentially passive.  Spectacles and shoes, you know?  And other Neutral Public Objects.  A whole other kind of Commons that we never consider, because we don’t have to;  a whole other set of technological tools and devices that we are free to mind our own business about.  You want to talk about infrastructure, well this is a very important kind of it…it’s easy to defend the publicly-owned neutrality of city sidewalks by taking a moment to mess up advertising that someone has power-washed into them, and thankfully there is no kind of skywriting that isn’t by its nature temporary:  for all the space around things that people own that is hotly contested and furiously argued-over, there is ten times or a hundred times or a thousand times the space around such things that it is not necessary to contest, or that is so easy to contest that antisocial opportunism can’t find a foothold there.  So, sure, behind this door you will either find the Lady or the Tiger, but all the other doors are just plain doors:  they go somewhere, and are for passing through.  They function, essentially, as doors.  You don’t have to notice them.

But behind every door, sooner or later — if Silicon Valley has its way — will lie either the Barcode or the Reader.  And can we sustain our lives, our everyday personal lives, if that becomes the new way things work?  Bad things happen when the spirit of capitalization hits the public investment in utilities, when infrastructure becomes commodified — the Enron COO dude didn’t set out to shut down hospitals, I am sure, but unfortunately for him he was only visionary enough to see what could be gained by profit-taking, and not what could be lost.  Sergei Brin sounds very comical indeed when he talks about how it makes him feel more of a Man not to have to carry around a phone in his pocket — if I had a bit more leisure at this exact moment I could churn out a couple thousand words about that Very Interesting assertion of his without breaking a sweat — hmm, and maybe I will, later:  I think it’s more interesting than has been noticed! — but what will happen if people start to feel like Real Man’s Men wearing Google Glass will not be so bloody comical.  Mad Emperor Sergei is kind of right, you see:

You will enjoy a feeling of power, if you wear these things.

Because, know it or not…you will enjoy the exercise of power by wearing them.

But if you are only about as visionary as that Enron guy, you probably won’t see that power relations always have the same character, regardless of what the technology looks like:  always stand for the same basic sort of choice.  And when you inject power relations into areas of life where they didn’t previously apply…

(Hey, and it actually turns out that you can make a great deal of money that way, you know?)

…Then every person becomes a door, behind which lies either fortune or disaster.

And you’ll have to open every goddamn one of them, just even when you go to the store to buy bananas.

Personally, I don’t like your chances.

13 responses to “Google Update: The Lady Or The Tiger

  1. I am reminded of some cyberpunk author–I want to say Greg Bear but I may be wrong about that–who was on a panel at some con and asked the audience, “How many of you believe that people will still be recognizably human beings in fifty years?”

    Everybody raised their hands.

    “You’re all wrong,” he said.

    I thought he was crazy when I first heard that and I continue to hold to that opinion.

    • I also think that sounds like Futurist Crap…hey, did you know that according to Frank Ogden people were set to stop having sex in about 1986? In a way it would be a wonderfully uncomplicated thing, if humanity were to change along with technology: you wouldn’t have any problems with maladaptation to technology then!

      You’d be brand-new people!

      Problem solved!

      And this stuff surely gets into the Silicon Valley mindset as well, that the problem will be “no problem” because people will just change. Why we listen to these insulated loners I don’t know…remember when Zuckerberg opined that the New People didn’t really care about privacy anymore? That was a strange thing to say, wasn’t it? Of course we care about it more than we did, as it gets eroded…when I was in university studying American politics, the matter of the “Privacy Amendment” (I think it’s the Ninth Amendment?) was really interesting, because it was so hard to say just what privacy really was, it was so hard to say what its value was or how it could even be protected…all one big lump of “don’t really know”. But now there’s not much of a question about the tangibility and value of privacy…hey, up top I was also going to say “books” as well as spectacles and shoes, as an example of things-that-are-passive…but stopped myself just in time, since that idol’s already fallen if you use an e-reader!

      Anyway, the idea of the power relations fucking up social lubrication, that’s all about how people aren’t going to be “not recognizably human”, it’s just that their technologies and systems are going to be far less tailored to what suits human beings. Greg Bear’s making the “genetic superbabies” mistake there, I think — the SF idea of “new humans” is just an ironic indicator of how we won’t be new, but we’ll just have turned our society to shit by doing stupid things and not anticipating the problems they could cause?

  2. Also. The glasses I’ve got? I bet they’d never make Google Specs with this prescription. Because I’ve got the prisms in there for hyperphoria.

    Isn’t it more likely that they’d just sell clear-glass ones that can fit over any other glasses? So much easier in so many ways.

  3. In fact I had meant to include some mention of that…it would be easy to adapt existing optometrist technology to make Borg Glasses that you fit over your real glasses…but obviously they don’t want that, for a couple of reasons. Reason One being: it would be less “integrated” a solution, which I think we could also parse as “less voluntary”, without too much trouble…

    And Reason Two being that, as someone on Twitter said recently, “Snow Crash was really cool, you guys.” A thing I find all the time with people who don’t wear glasses (or even people who rarely do without them for any length of time) is that they basically look on glasses as a fashion accessory, conveniently not-remembering that without them you can’t see. Glasses here could also stand for what wealthy people think of money and employment and investments and creature comforts…TWO BUCKS FOR A CUP OF COFFEE, MATTHEW! Not everyone has it…

    To me it’s like the persistent illusion that an elevator isn’t really a closed and lightless metal box. So easy to forget, when we so rarely see an unlit elevator! And also when the light-source is artfully hidden so the light’s just sort of “there”. So elevators are lit spaces, don’t we all know that? Isn’t it kind of crazy and aggressive to insist they’re not? Privilege is a thing that seeps in from all sides, of course; I myself occasionally forget that I CAN’T SEE…

    But anyway, the idea of making prescription Borg Glasses, it kind of suggests “hey, like glasses, but less inutile”, when really it’s hard to think of anything more tangibly and directly utile than a pair of glasses. I mean, if you have ‘em then you can hold a job, for one thing…

  4. I have this smartphone now; didn’t think I’d ever have one, but I do, and it’s very handy. Only problem is it needs to be charged all the freaking time. I’ve got the battery-saver app on it, but if I listen to a baseball game over it, the phone basically can’t make it to the end of a game.

    Imagine if I had to charge my glasses?! I can’t afford to sit by an outlet for two hours, and I can’t just not wear glasses; I’m supposed to wear them all the time.

    Fine! Be it resolved: no Google Cheaters.

  5. The backlash is encouraging, but the ANTI-backlash is SO discouraging: “These kind of devices are inevitable, stop worrying about them, bro.” It’s the same kind of refusal to engage as when comics fans attempt to shut down discussions about Kirby and Marvel by going “Work for hire! Contracts!” because they live in a horrifying reality in which legality is the sole method by which ethics and morality are defined.

  6. I kind of like the anti-backlash, just because I anticipate it being SOOOOOO sweet when finally this cynical armchair-QB “chill bro” response is revealed as the busted thing it is, and even sweeter to bust “lol you haters with your buggy whips”, I mean all that stuff’s really had a good ride…a surprisingly good ride, but it’s a bit like the thing I wrote about apathy — whenever any powers-that-be require exceptional assent from ordinary people, to me it seems ever more likely that they’ll find their old buddy political/consumer apathy turns around and stabs them in the back.

    Anyway, I hope so…because GOD, wouldn’t it be nice to hear them grumble about about how it was such a great idea and if only people had listened to them and maybe they just didn’t get their message across and if only Romney had been just a bit more likeable or if Sandy hadn’t hit or minorities weren’t so lazy…?

  7. For your amusement, here is a guy who’s trying his best to Chill Bro you…

    And most, if not all, of what he’s saying is full of shit. Leaving aside the recent development of electronic “telepathy” — those are little bandaids you can put on your throat to pick up subvocalizations, so as far as the “you’ll hear people shouting commands to their glasses” thing goes, it’s a pretty woefully anti-technological refutation…20th century thinking, really…

    But of course beyond that is his really funny insistence that because no one taped Alderman Burke in the locker room at the health club then nothing shitty came of people having cameras in their cell phones that was on par with Mr. Burke being so taped…when of course we know, goddamnit we KNOW, that Mr. Burke’s fear can only be considered to have been proved groundless if the specific example of him being taped, and in that particular place too was indeed the only fucking thing he was worried about. Instead of it being, y’know, an example.

    Dude goes on to say that the problem isn’t Big Data but Big Government, so…yeah, 20th century thinking, absolutely hopeless, but in particular I’m amused by his promise not to record me without my permission, even though he’s just tried to argue that it wouldn’t matter anyway, because…

    …Friend, I am not going to give you the chance to break that promise, and then decide you don’t really care if you broke it.

    “We figured this out before,” he says. Well, no we fucking didn’t, actually! If we had, then “cyberbullying” would look a lot different…if we had, then my city’s recent boneheaded riots wouldn’t have been prolonged and exacerbated by everyone in the riot zone not leaving, because they were busy recording…I mean, I even hesitate to bother trashing these hyperentitled excuses, because they’re so gauze-thin, but one thing is sure…!

    Dude there: he is reacting, not thinking. He wants those glasses. He doesn’t think you should be able to tell him he’s bad for wanting them. Why can’t he just do what he wants?

    Well…

    He talks about shunning behaviour, as the way we determine social norms. And hey, guess what? THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF IT.

    Gosh, would really hate to invoke DeSeze again…but…

    “Why don’t all you haters just let society figure out how to do this, how to regulate unwanted behaviour?” Yes why don’t we. Why don’t we let society figure that out.

    “Don’t you understand that by your own principle of democracy, the King must have been democratically-elected avant la lettre?

    No, friend…we don’t realize that. Only the King “realizes that”.

    Oh, beware the attempt to inject power politics into spheres of life previously without them, for you may well be hoist with that very same fucking petard of yours, asshole!

  8. I thought his assertion that they’ll add a red light to the glasses, so THAT CLEARS THAT UP *makes dusting-off motion with hands* was pretty great.

  9. Pingback: Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Spritz, or “Welcome… to the World of Tomorrow (1983)!”·

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