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.