The wearable computer Google Glass has been thrust into the spotlight once more after another attack on a user in San Francisco. Last month, the tech writer Sarah Slocum had her Glass snatched in a bar in the early hours of a Saturday morning. This time around, the victim was a 20-year-old reporter called Kyle Russell.
Russell had been reporting on a protest march against a Google employee who recently evicted several tenants after purchasing a building in the area. After filing his story at a nearby coffee shop, Russell says he "mindlessly" put Glass to walk to to the subway before being caught off guard by a Glass hater who snatched the device from his face, threw it on the ground and sprinted off through the crowd. His Glass is now damaged and unusable.
Just had Glass torn off my face and smashed on the ground in the Mission— Kyle Russell (@kylebrussell) April 12, 2014
Anti–Glass activist or a thief? Hard to say, but it's certainly true that tensions have been rising in San Francisco. Gentrification and Google are seen as mutually exclusive – Glass is simultaneously seen as a symbol of Google's invasiveness and a representation of its power. A lot of people don't like it and Google is worried - it's even written a guide to not being a glasshole (AKA the ultimate term of insult for Glass wearers). Don'ts include being "creepy or rude".
Whatever you may think about stealing someone's property off their face and then destroying it, it's hard to escape the fact that the recording function on Google Glass is extremely anti-social. People feel awkward enough posing for photographs they've agreed to be in; imagine if you think that that could be happening all day, without your knowledge.
What about those things you say that you absolutely wish you'd not said and are relieved that only a few people heard you? Boom, recorded forever. There's no denying that a world in which everybody wears cameras will make us even worse at communicating in person than we already are.
Check out Surveillance Camera Man, a YouTube user in Seattle who has gained infamy for walking up to strangers and filming them without his consent. When confronted by his angry subjects, he responds with bland statements like, "It’s OK, I’m just recording video." Whether or not it's a comment on Glass or a more general statement on the pervasiveness of surveillance, it certainly strikes a nerve:
"I can see why the person who smashed my Glass did what they did," Russell admits in a post for Business Insider. "My love for gadgets makes me look and sound like one of the people whom residents of the city have come to feel oppressed by."
There has been plenty of anti–Google rhetoric on Russell's Twitter feed, too:
-@kylebrussell yo if you get your google glass back maybe just shove it right up your ass?— julian mcallister (@miss_merboy) April 13, 2014
Just as one feel-good Glass story breaks – like this one about a Glass-equipped Boston doctor saving a patient by pulling up his medical records in super quick time – there's another development that makes you question your faith in humanity. Like the Glass app that allows you to observe coitus from the perspective of your partner (if I wanted to look at myself while having sex with someone else, I'd look in a mirror).
Attacks on Glass wearers are just the tip of the iceberg – as Google prepares to open the Glass Explorer distribution programme to all Americans for a limited time, we'll probably have to confront some difficult questions about just how comfortable we are with being surveilled by our fellow man. What do you think about the social implications of Google Glass?
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot