glass_photos4Is Google’s “Project Glass” a wearable computing device or the final, shattering blow to the world as we know it?

These days, it’s hard to tell.

For a gadget no one can own and no one can review, we’ve been surprisingly comfortable casting Google’s augmented reality glasses as technology’s next great villain — hiding in the shadows, waiting to pounce.

On what?

This week, on the integrity of public spaces.

Seattle’s 5 Point Cafe sparked a national media frenzy when it posted on Facebook last week that it would ban Google Glass. “Ass kickings will be encouraged for violators,” it warned.

The story went everywhere, even landing a link on the hit-making Drudge Report.

The 5 Point’s loving the attention. On Saturday the bar’s page compared people who will wear Glass to people who wear fanny packs. On Monday, when it had earned 500 new Facebook likes from the madness, it answered critics with a photo of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, someone sporting blue Glass and actress Sarah Jessica Parker, of all people.

“C’mon, really?” the page asked. “If nothing else, we’re saving you from looking like a complete idiot in public.”

5 Point owner David Meinert admitted the “ban” was half a joke. His page also boasts that cinnamon boosts brain function and that this guy loves the chicken fried steak and eggs.

Fun and games aside, there’s real anxiety behind Google Glass. But when you can’t stop talking about a ban on something that barely even exists yet, you know we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

“This is much ado about nothing — the equivalent of banning cell phones while the customer is in line to pay,” University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo wrote me via email. One of his specialties is the intersection of privacy law and surveillance. “Google Glass does not, at this time, convert the wearer into an omniscient Hiro (a character from the Neal Stephenson novel ‘Snow Crash’). And a person who really wanted to could record video or audio in the bar or look people up without Glass.”

“But perhaps it is interesting at the level of symbolism,” he suggested. “The question is, a symbol of what?”

Monica Guzman
Monica Guzman

That’s where this gets interesting. Follow the logic: A bar bans Google Glass? Can they? Dare they? People are really talking about this. Well, maybe bans are all that can save us. “The public outcry is going to be fast and furious,” ZDNet writer James Kirkpatrick predicted. Once people become aware of what Glass can do, he wrote, “an outbreak of bans is sure to result.”

Whoa there. Slow down. Let’s think about this.

People aren’t reacting to technology. They’re reacting to a fear that technology represents.

It wouldn’t be the first time. Smartphones played this role before. And Facebook. Remember when that social network was the devil because our friends could post photos of us without our knowledge, potentially ruining our lives forever?

We’re not afraid of a pair of pimped up glasses. We’re afraid of a world in which we’re all walking cameras, seconds away from broadcasting to the masses. A world of spies, where no one thinks of it as spying.

We’ve been afraid of that world for a long time.

So let’s not overstate what Google Glass really is. Cameras and microphones have been around forever. Everything since — even the real shiny stuff — only makes that baseline technology more accessible, more shareable, more portable and less obvious.

Glass is the next step on a predictable path. If none of the other communications “revolutions” sent us to our doom, Glass isn’t likely to, either.

There’s no need to freak out. But there is a need to be vigilant.

You know what happened to that fear of Facebook pictures ruining our lives? Reality and time. Most people just aren’t that inconsiderate, or that stupid. Most of us don’t do things that are that awful around other people. Etiquette formed, slowly but surely, because everyone didn’t all start tagging photos at once. And as much as we suspect strangers, it’s bad form to embarrass someone who’s just being themselves. No one wants to be that guy.

But something else happened, too. People’s fear made them talk, and that talk made Facebook act. The site gave users more control over their own photo tags and more transparent privacy controls over all. The same is happening with drone technology. Seattle doesn’t want it in the hands of law enforcement yet, so our police decided not to use it.

In that sense, thank you, 5 Point, for getting us talking about Google Glass.

We might need to go as far as banning Google Glass in public spaces to relieve our anxiety. But only if we’re suddenly swimming in these things, the people wearing them are Class A jerks and we all decide that even though it’s rude to stare at our phones while we’re hanging out with friends, we can look through geeky glasses at our beer and still expect to seem social.

So simmer down, everyone. Chances are, this problem will solve itself.

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  • Seattle Tech

    Kind of feels like the debate on hand guns. While the implications of a misused hand gun are not as trivial as this debate, the issue here is not with the device. It is with the actions associated with the user of the device. On another blog, the author jokingly commented that bars likely won’t be shutting down their CCTV cameras which routinely record anything that takes place in public places.
    My advice, don’t do anything stupid you wouldn’t want your mother or spouse to see in public. Someone is always watching whether we legislate against it or not. Those who scream the loudest are usually the ones with the most to hide.

    • Monica Guzman

      “…the issue here is not with the device. It is with the actions associated with the user of the device.”

      Exactly. And what’s extra fascinating about this is how much we’re speculating about those associated actions before this device is even publicly available. That indicates a lot of anxiety, but also a lot of informed presumption: we’ve hung around in the trigger-happy recording world long enough to feel confident making some bold guesses about how Google Glass could change the game.

    • Jeremy Irish

      I know I’m taking the analogy of the gun too far, but we currently holster our devices until we need them. The idea if Glass is to strap it to our heads and have it pointing at everyone all the time. It feels hostile.

      • Seattle Tech

        I agree with you – you are taking the gun analogy too far. Watch out! Someone is pointing their cell phone camera at you! Everyone take cover! Perhaps the next ridiculous issue will be ski resorts banning GoPro cameras from the slopes. It would be nice to ban snowboarders though…Deer Valley’s snowboard ban is awesome.

        • Jeremy Irish

          I agree with you – Deer Valley is a great place for all the assholes to go.

      • Monica Guzman

        The “always on, always ready” aspect of Google Glass is definitely one of the scariest things to people. I hadn’t thought about it like a gun, always pointed, but if you value your privacy and consider its violation an assault, then yeah – I see where that perceived hostility holds.

        I think a lot will have to do with how obvious it is that someone is using their Google Glasses to record something. Is there a little light that goes off, like with a camcorder?…

  • mfpunk

    Any Glassholes come near me with this monstrosity and the last video their little toy is going record is me breaking them.

  • Panda Xddx

    I want a holographic avatar that floats around or follows me.. like the one from that anime Vandread.

  • yin-haan

    fear that people have is of these technologies being used in
    fundamentally different contexts than those to which we are accustomed,
    ways that are universally recognised as violating both trust and our
    expectations of anonymity.

    cameras and microphones have existed for a long time, but “in your
    face” recording of your image and voice without your consent with no
    recourse has never been considered a common or acceptable aspect of regular social

    If a person wearing Google Glass is in recording
    mode, there’s no way you can tell this without first being recorded.
    It’s only when the glasses are already pointed at you in recording mode
    that you have the opportunity to note the red light. At this point, your
    image is already captured, and you must rely on the mercy of the
    Glasshole to delete any recordings of you.

    If you can’t tell
    the difference between this and a cell phone camera, then you are either
    a Google shill, or just a complete asshole.

    (And yes, feel free to re-use that term, “Glasshole”, for anyone who buys into this jerkoffery.)

    • Monica Guzman

      I’m seeing that Glasshole term pop up more and more. I get the associations, but again – for a product that’s not even out in its consumer form, we presume so much …

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