There’s a great episode in Charlie Brooker’s dystopian UK TV show Black Mirror, where in a nearish future nearly everyone wears implants that act as DVRs for the eyes.
The episode hints at the surveillance dystopia this makes possible for employers and governments, with a creepy scene, where border agents scan a citizen’s recorded ‘memories’ from a business trip, looking for known terrorists.
But Brooker’s concerned mostly with the quotidian. What happens to a human in a world where video isn’t just easy to take, but video is just always taken?
There’s a startlingly awkward scene where a jealous husband repeatedly plays back to his wife and babysitter a moment from the night’s dinner party. He demands that the babysitter judge whether another man’s joke deserved the hearty laugh his wife gave. It’s clear the answer is no, and it’s just as clear what catastrophe lies ahead.
By the end of the episode, it’s hard to escape the conclusion we’re just too frail, flawed and insecure to live in a world where every moment lives on in databases, infinitely replayable. It’s a world where forgetting and forgiving become technically impossible.
On the internet if you don’t want Google search to include your website, you can set rules in a file known as robots.txt. It’s not perfect, but Googlebot, like most well-behaved web-spiders, obeys the request in that file.
But now, we have human Googlebots, aka Glassholes, testing out “Google Glass”. The mobile-computing spectacles make it easy to find directions, check messages and take videos and photos, including an undocumented feature that lets a Glass wearer snap a photo simply by winking.
We’re pretty far along into the process of learning to live in a world where a handheld recording device is in easy reach in nearly everyone’s pocket.
But Glass wearers permanently don the mediation between themselves and others — it’s constantly threatening. They’ve embraced being the uncle who won’t put down the video camera at the family gathering, despite pleas to put it away.
Robert Scoble, who may be singlehandly destroying Google Glass’s reputation, even wears them into public restrooms.
Jan Chipchase’s incisive essay on Glass hits the bullseye — Glass is a gun. Which makes Scoble the child who gets a too-high-powered nerf gun for his birthday and finds he likes the attention he gets pointing and shooting it at everyone.
So what’s to be done?
Or should the solution be something less technical? Something more human — like asking people to turn off the mediation and put it in their pocket, as we now expect friends to do with their mobiles when we’re sharing a meal or a coffee?
I’m going to opt for the human approach, if Glass actually becomes something more than a thing to show off at a party or another self-aggrandizement tool used only by Silicon Valley villagers.
So my humans.txt policy is simple.
If we’re socializing, then tune in and turn off. And if you are wearing Glass somewhere where a camera isn’t welcome, expect a literal or figurative punch to the stomach.
I doubt I’m alone. Perhaps there will be enough of us to forge a future where wearable computing meshes with human values, rather than re-wiring them to fit the dreams of techno-visionaries who never think to answer ‘No’ to questions that start “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”