Why are these guys smirking? Because they’re the founding members of the Glass Collective, the new “investment syndicate” that Google has organized “to provide seed funding to entrepreneurs in the Glass ecosystem.” Which means that they’re thinking about the prospect of gaining continuous access to your field of vision.
McLuhan offered a dark prophecy about Glass a half century ago:
Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit by taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left.
That’s alarmist, sure, but even though Glass is a logical extension of the ever-present smartphone screen and its hidden location sensor, it also represents a crossing of the bodily proscenium. It is, as they say, in your face. And before we allow those fellows up there to mount our brows, harness our gaze, and whisper sweet somethings in our ears, it would probably be wise to consider exactly how they’ll benefit by taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves. When profit-seeking investors and companies start augmenting our reality in a very intimate fashion, how exactly do rights and responsibilities shake out?
It’s time, in other words, to get beyond abstract references to “augmented reality” and start talking about augmentors (that would be them) and augmentees (that would be us). When Silicon Valley talks about the benefits of radical transparency, it’s always talking about augmentees and never about augmentors. It has, collectively, an army of lobbyists and PR functionaries actively resisting attempts to put limits on the transparency of augmentees as well as attempts to make the operations of augmentors more transparent. What does such an imbalance of power mean when it’s our very gaze that’s being tracked and manipulated? Does our gaze warrant explicit protections? Is our gaze our own, or is it now a tradable commodity? When it comes to data collection and sale, does reality augmentation begin with the default of opt-out or the default of opt-in?
The Glass Collective is a collective of augmentors. They can be expected to act in their own interests. We augmentees have yet to even think about ourselves as augmentees. If that doesn’t change – and soon – the defaults will, once again, be set without us.