It was banned from beaches after people sneaked photos of female sunbathers. It was outlawed from the Washington Monument. It struck fear in the hearts of those who valued privacy.
No, I’m not talking about Google Glass. Those were reactions to the first Kodak cameras in the late 1800s.
Fast-forward to 2013 and our reaction to technology is eerily similar: this month’s release of Google Glass’ Explorer Edition came with a smattering of announcements banning it — with even a White House petition circulating to prohibit the gadget until limitations are placed on it to “prevent indecent public surveillance.”
There are only about 8,000 devices going out to hand-selected applicants. With few people having ever experienced this groundbreaking technology, why are we so quick to condemn what we don’t yet understand? We need to encourage and embrace innovative technology instead of fearing every possible way it could harm us. Negative, knee-jerk reactions do nothing to foster the creativity and inventiveness that are essential for our country’s success.
Google Glass dissenters argue that the device, which can record images and video, presents a threat to privacy. But state laws have long been in place to regulate covert recordings: about a dozen explicitly forbid recording conversations without the permission of all parties, and taking pictures without consent in locations like locker rooms where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy is forbidden.
Plus, we’re already legally recorded and tracked almost everywhere we go. Have a cell phone or iPad? There’s a good chance one of your apps enabled the GPS-tracking function or that companies like Euclid Analytics have recorded your smartphone’s attempts to access a store’s wi-fi — and collected data on how much time you spent in different departments. Facial-recognition software already exists, and the average urban American is caught at least 75 times each day on security cameras just walking down the street. Times Square alone has at least 200 cameras, and people in London are recorded about 300 times every day.
Besides, you don’t need Google Glass to surreptitiously record something or someone. Generic-looking eyewear with hidden cameras has long been available for about $300, a fraction of Google Glass’s $1,500 price tag. Micro wireless cameras sell for about $40 on eBay, and devices like pens and MP3 players can be purchased with hidden cameras. While you would never think twice about someone wearing sunglasses or carrying a pen in their pocket, Google Glass is literally in your face. You need to say, “O.K., Glass,” and “Record a video,” or move your head in certain directions to capture anything — not exactly discreet. With the flash turned off, recording with a smartphone would be less obvious.
When we don’t understand something, we often react before grasping both the positive and negative implications. Let’s give Google Glass space to breathe and develop so we can see its potential for evolving a new species of helpful apps. Some are already being developed with facial recognition — not for spying but to help hospital staff access and add to patients’ virtual charts. And several people who applied for the device already have fantastic ideas, including a firefighter who wants to use maps with the device to improve fire safety. Another Glass recipient plans to take the frames to Veteran Administration hospitals so those who served in World War II can see their memorials before they die.
The mobile revolution unchained technology from our desks and made it an integral part of our active daily experiences. We’re in the early stages of mobile hardware and apps, with new form factors like Google Glass stretching our minds to come up with iterations we could only imagine years ago. Change is inevitable. And as Helen Keller once said, “The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next.”