Sunday, April 28, 2013

Beware the Cyborgs? On Augmented Reality Glasses and related matters.

By now you have all heard about Google Glass, probably more than you wish. For those of you who don't know what I mean, here is a decent overview. And of course, there are plenty of developers for augmented reality goggles, not just Google Glass. Anyway, there is already a movement to try to ban goggle glasses in certain public spaces, (and despite what Eric Schmidt says, these concerns are clearly not just from people "afraid of the future"). I really suggest reading and following the blog, Stop the Cybrogs. As you can see, the blog is about more than just wearable computing and augmented reality glasses, but more broadly, about the way that certain Big Data and computerizations are producing certain realities. This Ars Technica article/interview is really useful for an overview.

What is at stake here isn't any sort of traditional romanticization of privacy, but rather, a very different question is at stake. As Adam from StC has put it, google glasses has the potential to "destroys having multiple identities" and that "You're never going to see a stranger as a stranger again." Remember the time when we all thought the internet was going to make it so we got to be all genderqueer deconstructionist deleuzian radicals? Good times. But rather than the internet making it so that we have so many identities, we are all beginning to confront the reality that instead the internet is also good for fixing Macro and Molar identities. Or, as the StC puts it:

In the past interacting in the physical world was “private by default” and “public through effort” whereas, on the Internet, the reverse is true: What we do is “public by default” and “private through effort.”
Our point is that with wearable’s and the internet of things the physical world also becomes “public by default” and “private through effort.” unless we actively work to replace friction by law and by norms.

Clearly, this isn't some sort of wide-reaching critique of the internet, or a claim that there are not radical possibilities and realities of the internet, or anything of the sort. And, I know for most of us, this is all old, old hat. But yet, I think it is important to remember that Donna Haraway might have gotten this one really, really wrong. Rather than cyborgs being fundamentally hybrid beings, they are vectors of the the digitalization of everyday life. There is something about the singular identity and the removal of the stranger that is philosophically dense here.

Also, I dunno, it is part of my protracted silence for a while on this blog. I went on the job market, and I was encouraged by many to minimize my digital footprint (I did some stuff for things I said as an undergrad and early grad student, but couldn't bring myself to delete and remove most of my extensive online self). Who knows if that was or was not a good idea. But somehow even in the supposed pro-free speech and free thinking world of academia, I thought it was a good idea to curate my digital existence and enter a period of digital silence.