There’s a lot of buzz these days about “wearable” technology. From things like Google Glass to smartwatches, they seem to be popping up everywhere. While wearables may be the future of technology, I’m not all that excited about them.
As tech pundit Robert Scoble, a Google Glass fanatic, has pointed out, there are a lot of conveniences a wearable offers. He talks about how easy it would be to buy things or get directions to a local coffee shop by just saying it. It all sounds great, but I think he and the other proponents are neglecting to point how selfish these devices are and what the cost is to those around them.
The ability of these devices to capture photos and videos without one’s knowledge or consent seems to be a really big issue that is not being addressed. With past technologies, society has implemented norms and laws regarding the capture and transmission on one’s recorded likeness or voice. For example, I’m not legally permitted to record a phone conversation without the other party’s consent. Even photos and videos are subject to privacy laws surrounding broadcast and retransmission.
To put it bluntly, I’m not comfortable with the proliferation of these devices before the moral, ethical and legal ramifications have been discussed, which it seems as though everyone wants to sweep under the rug. As another example, take a look at this article by Gizmodo author Leslie Horn who was at the Galaxy Gear smartwatch launch. She was able to take video and snap photos of someone without them noticing. Not only is it creepy, as she points out, but it seems invasive. At least if she was pointing her phone at them, they’d have some reason to believe that she was capturing my actions. With the watch, it can be done very discreetly.
On top of the privacy concerns, there’s also the whole government/NSA/PRISM monitoring debate. I’ve already written my piece on these programs, and these devices certainly aren’t going to allay my concerns about them. In fact, it only further fuels my concern as we head deeper into Brave New World territory where the government doesn’t have to develop the tools to monitor us, we’re happy to give up our freedoms away and do it to ourselves. I can already see the justification for future privacy invasion – “it’s not different than what people are already doing with Google Glass.” How convenient.
I guess my point is that just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Yes, a wearable computing device does have its uses. I can clearly see how it could be helpful in surgical applications, educational settings, or other industrial applications. However, that doesn’t mean that we should use it in social applications. I can easily see why most bars, nightclubs, and other social gathering areas would want to ban these devices. It would certainly curtail the mentality of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”.
I fear that we continue to create technologies that satisfy our own personal indulgences and make our lives more convenient at the expense of future generations. It makes me wonder whether our generation will be remembered as the one that created technology to improve our lives or to strip us of our humanity.