In 2002, M.T. Anderson’s dystopian novel, Feed hit the shelves. This YA novel follows the path of high school students through a world in which the feed, an Internet/television hybrid is directly hardwired into the brain. In this very plausible future, parents select their baby’s attributes and girls retreat to the ladies room several times a night to change hairstyles. In Anderson’s world, corporate- and media-dominated culture has replaced all thought, as what amounts to advertising is continually pumped directly into one’s head. It is a wonderful, albeit, frightening book.
Over the years since I first read the novel, I’ve noticed little things, disturbing parallels that have given me pause. For example, the ability of smart phones to automatically receive messages when their owner walks past a store. Another example, search engines that remember your previous inquiries and feed related information or ads as days later you move on to other topics. Some of these parallels are not purely electronic. I’ve seemingly spontaneously received snail mail for ailments I thought only I and my doctor discussed. I had forgotten about my insurance company’s Big Brother presence in the examining room.
Now, it seems we are one more step closer to Anderson’s world: Google Glass.[i] Google Glass is a compact computer fitted on to metal eye glass frames. It contains a camera, battery, motion sensor and of course, Wi-Fi. The glasses can record what the user experiences and also can provide the wearer with immediate information targeted just for them.
Projections are that these “smart glasses” will be no more expensive than the smart phone, the average retail costs suggested at around $400. They are voice activated, no real special instruction is necessary. No doubt, our gadget-loving, media-hungry society will be attracted to this idea. But developers do acknowledge there are drawbacks. The way people behave while wearing the glasses they believe can make or break the future of Google Glass. Paying attention to others or what’s going on around the wearer as information streams directly into one’s field of vision might be a challenge. Still, the suggestions are that cues for when to engage a person will change, not that the glasses may be socially inappropriate. I find the prospect horrifying.
Beyond what I hope is obvious: distractions while driving or engaging in focused tasks; more people seeming to talk to no one; the isolation and dissipation of human interaction causing a lack of socialization and a further entrenchment of our already consumer-based culture. In my opinion, this development may contribute to the ‘dumbing down of America’ and the related backlash against libraries and education.
How many times have we heard the completely inaccurate statement that all information can be found online? That all such found information is truthful? That devices such as I-pads and e-books readers have rendered information providers be it librarians or educators obsolete? And now all the (mis)information will be able to come directly to the user via his or her glasses. I’d recommend before purchasing Google Glass, one should read Feed. The fate of our futures might depend on it.
[i] Simonite, Tom. “Google Wants to Install a Computer on Your Face.” In MIT Technology Review, Vol 116. No.3 May/June 2013 p. 70-71.