When I was accepted into Google’s Glass Explorers program I spent a few weeks on the fence. On the one hand, Glass is a potentially game-changing device that could represent the future of technological integration into our day to day lives. On the other hand, it’s an expensive and ostentatious gadget that I wasn't entirely sure I’d ever use.
Once I actually picked mine up, though, I fell completely in love. Not with the cool map in my peripheral vision, not with the ability to send and receive texts and tweets, not with the integrated video chats. What continues to blow me away is something much more simple: the camera.
Walking past a shop window near Chinatown I saw a flyer for an event that looked interesting. Without breaking my stride, without even pausing in conversation with my friend, I reached up and pushed the camera button while glancing at the flyer. Remember this.
There’s nothing new about digital cameras. We have them in our phones, in our tablets, in our laptops - we’ve gotten used to the idea that, if we want to, we can take a moment to photograph anything we want to photograph. It’s rare NOT to have a camera around, these days. Usually a few, right?
But something I never really considered before was the way in which, for all our immediately accessible recording equipment, the act of photography is an event. You have to get your phone out, you have to open the camera app. You line up the shot, but of course once your camera finally wakes up you realize you have it configured to use the self-facing camera (you narcissist), so you grope for the button flip it. You look at your subject (through your phone!) and, once you have the shot you want, you press the button and hope that in doing so you don’t jostle the phone too much and accidentally lose focus. Then, because it’s inevitably going to be a grainy and poorly focused and blurry representation of whatever you were trying to shoot, you never look at it again.
Sitting for a moment in Union Square, I was enjoying a talented guitar player and a young man - a nephew, perhaps? - jamming some Led Zeppelin covers through a portable amp. They’re not bad. It’s a nice moment. Remember this.
The big difference between the Glass camera and the camera on your phone is that you don’t line up the shot. There’s no viewfinder. There’s no screen to look through. It’s almost like there’s no device - you just, magically, have the ability to capture a moment. The moment is what you see, either in an instant or over a few instants. You just ask the device to remember it for you, and you know it’ll be there later.
I can’t stress this enough. It doesn’t feel like taking a picture. It feels like making a mental note to remember what you’re looking at.
With this camera setup, Glass feels not like a new toy but rather like an augmentation to something far more primitive. We are all capable of simply deciding that we want to enjoy a moment, remember it, come back to it.
Glass just gives you the option to formalize that.
In a trendy Manhattan restaurant for brunch. Every item on the menu has a unique appeal - no matter what I order I know I’ll want to come back again and try something else. I’m reading the list of options. Remember this.
Later, once the day’s adventures have come to an end and the Glass is plugged in to charge, all the photos and videos I’ve taken are automatically uploaded to my Google Plus account. Now, I don’t use Google Plus very much - it’s not where I do my social networking. But that doesn’t stop Google from storing, tagging and organizing the photographs I take.
Whenever I want to look back on this weekend in NYC I can simply navigate to that date in my G+ image history and all of my memories are there.
Google even gets a bit clever - if I take several photos of the same thing over the span of a few moments, Google will create an animated gif for me that loops over the variations of the shot. This provides a new kind of depth to the memories, an algorithmically generated medium somewhere between an image and a video. I like these the best - moments are stored there, in the space between frames. It’s where smells and tastes and feelings live.
When I get off the train a group of middle school students is performing a Hawaiian dance routine as part of a local arts festival. I join the crowd watching them, enjoying their energy. When it ends, several excitedly run over to ask about the device. “Is that a HUD?” asks one. “Are you a spy?” demands another. I think I’ll remember this the old fashioned way.
For Glass to take off, this is the narrative that Google needs to invest in. I was not sure I would like the device because I was not sure what it would give me that I didn’t already have.
Now I know. This is less cell phone and more neural augmentation. And I can’t help but feel that, in a small way, the world - and my relationship to it - has changed.