26 June 2014

COMMENT: The Glassholes cometh

Google Glass comes to the UK

No longer will we in dear old Blighty be able to sit back and gawp in amazement at our colonial cousins as they fumble around with computers hanging from their noses. That is because Google is extending the coverage of their (seemingly unending) public beta test of Glass to Britain. Yes, that is right, now anyone in Britain can get a Google Glass and try it out, with their comments and suggestions being welcomed back at Google HQ.

Unlike previously, when the only way to secure yourself a pair of magic Google specs was to be specially invited, anyone can now join the beta test, just as long as you have a spare £1000 sitting around. Obviously this will prevent all but the wealthiest and craziest of us from signing up - and I'm certain that the big-hitting tech sites and magazines will get on board - but it does mean that all the controversy surrounding Glass that America has seen over the last 18 months will now spread to this green and pleasant land.
Although Britain has the reputation of being one of the most surveilled countries in the world, with more 
CCTV cameras per person than there are sheep, how will we react to bumping into someone with a camera on their face; a camera that may or may not be recording our interaction?

Excuse me if this is prejudice, but I've always held the opinion that the average American is more enthusiastic when it comes to encountering new technology; that the device itself, regardless of what it is, would generate a certain fascination. In my mind's eye I see Phil Dunphy, the dad from Modern Family, high-fiving a guy on the bus because he's wearing Glass. In Britain however, and again forgive if I seem to be a self-hating Briton, I see that same bus journey being crowded by calls of "Take it off!" and "You bloody idiot!" It would make Phil sad.

That isn't to say that we adopt new technology with any less vehemence; smartphone ownership in the UK is, for example, higher than that in the US. It's just that when issuse of privacy are raised I can imagine us on this side of the Atlantic getting more militant. After all, local authorities can justify the installation of yet another CCTV camera on the grounds that it keeps us safe and crime levels low - the same cannot be said about the man wearing Google Glass sitting opposite you on the train. Sure, the chap's intentions may be innocent as he flicks his head while reading text messages and emails on a screen you can't see. But that empty dark spot by his eye, the non-blinking, the non-shutter clicking lens of the camera... well, what is that recording?

Suddenly you're on Big Brother. Everything you do is being captured, kept, and saved for future and un-asked for use. Will the guy reach his destination, get off the train, go home and download the video he secretly filmed of you to save in a folder called 'Future murder victims'? Did he see the passcode you entered into your (good old fashioned, reliable, honest) phone? Did he use WiFi to see your dreams, steal your thoughts? That idea you've had for a novel about talking crabs - he pinched that as well and is going to make a mint from it. Damn him, the sneaky, thieving cyborg!

Whether we like it or not, the appearance of "Glassholes" (or rather the British version: 'Glarseholes') will be increasing as the beta test continues. What will be the new Glass controversies to hit the headlines in the coming months, and how will they be uniquely flavoured by the UK users?

As long as a developer comes along with a garden shed app, we should all be kept happy.

Howard Mosley-Chalk is Editor of The Test Pit, a freelance writer and a journalist. Follow him on Twitter and find out more about him here: www.howardmosleychalk.com
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