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A real touch of glass

Unfortunately, if you shed your personal information without inhibition on social media, you shouldn’t complain when those private parts are exposed, writes Anirudh Bhattacharyya.

columns Updated: Mar 22, 2013 22:48 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya,hindustan times,social media

There are plenty of people paranoid about privacy. Especially those on social media. In between posting pictures of their vacations, houses, spouses, children, cats, dogs, meals, wheels, and other assorted details, they go into hysterics each time Facebook changes its interface, which seems like every alternate week. Like those cyclostyled chain letters of my youth, they then share warnings of how social media are invading their privacy.

Oh! The privation. Unfortunately, if you shed your personal information without inhibition on social media, you shouldn’t complain when those private parts are exposed.

But the defenders of the free wired world aren’t impressed. For them, there’s a new personification of evil — a dorky looking Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google. Brin’s crime is displaying the Google Glass, a sort of smartphone-spectacle hybrid that may be available next year, and is Google’s latest effort to grab eyeballs, this time literally.

The project has already spawned a protest — the Stop the Cyborgs movement, which promises to keep “fighting the algorithmic future one bit at a time.” Panic buttons have been pushed over the Google Glass’s inclusion of a wearable, streaming camera.

Part of Brin’s reasoning for the new spectacle is that the touchscreen smartphone is “kind of emasculating. You’re just rubbing this featureless piece of glass.” So, instead Google wants to introduce the manliness quotient back into the experience — having people wear spectacles. Or as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asked Brin at an event: “How do you look out from this without looking awkward?”

The argument there is that is frees your hands. Hands free, like the first time I arrived in New York more than a decade ago and was bewildered at the people who appeared to be communing with spirits on street corners, before I discovered Bluetooth. Though since that was close to St Patrick’s Day, I don’t totally rule out the communing with spirits bit, given the proliferation of Irish pubs in Manhattan.

The argument that Google Glass will create a surveillance society is interesting. A Seattle dive bar has already preemptively banned use of Google Glass. Which is strange given that its clients are probably not given to reticence after a couple of glasses.

If you’re concerned about a spyglass logging and blogging your movements, you probably have an overblown sense of importance. You may be out of your mind if you think you can’t stay out of sight. Your life in camera shouldn’t be overly impacted. Google Glass, for instance, displays a red light when recording and does require voice commands and unless you turn a deaf ear to that, you could always step out of the frame.

No, what really scares me are descriptions from its patent application, such as this: “The vibration transducer is configured such that when the head-mounted display is worn, the vibration transducer vibrates the head-mounted display without directly vibrating a wearer.” That’s enough to make you shake your head.

As per available specs, the device is unlikely to have native storage. Presumably, Google Glass will want you to store information online, or, in geekspeak, have your head in the Cloud.

If Google is keenly eyeing its domain, Apple is engaged in some timely wristwork. It’s also going into accessory mode, to make computing truly personal. It’s expected to release its iWatch this year. Though, I won’t be surprised if it’s looking at Google’s new product and planning an iGlass.

For those already horrified at this vision of the future, remember that it’s always possible for Google Glass to enjoy as much success, as, say, Google Plus. In other words, we have seen nothing yet. No, what may be truly frightful is we get a version running Windows software.

Advocates and critics of Google Glass will either take a ‘Panglassian’ view or have a glass half full outlook. But even if your view isn’t rose-tinted, fear of the futuristic is always a trifle myopic.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years. The views expressed by the author are personal.