Since American culture measures success in dollars and since Silicon Valley leads the world in technological innovation, the industry’s leaders have a rarely questioned status as not only the richest but also the smartest entrepreneurs in the world. As co-founder of the $250 billion search giant Google, the 39 year-old Sergey Brin surely ranks as a visionary promoting a revolutionary new product: Google Glass. Or maybe not.
In terms of commercial aspirations, Brin’s TED marketing pitch made it clear that Google hopes to leapfrog over Apple by creating a device that ends up replacing the cell phone — that’s no small ambition given that cell phones have penetrated global markets more deeply than any other technology ever created. But for someone with this kind of megalomania, it was amazing to see that Brin could be so dumb as to alienate half the world by saying that cell phone use is “emasculating.”
As Wharton business ethics professor Andrea Matwyshyn noted: “a marketing strategy that positions Google Glass as a ‘man gadget’ potentially alienates half of the consumer base who might have been keenly interested in purchasing the product in the future.”
Even if the product’s marketers manage to recover from this misstep, there’s a more fundamental problem they face: whether worn by men or women, Glass is inherently a socially dysfunctional device.
Wearing this thing is a sure way to alienate yourself from everyone around you (unless you happen to be part of Google’s product development team) as Mark Hurst explains:
The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them. I’ll give an easy example. Your one-on-one conversation with someone wearing Google Glass is likely to be annoying, because you’ll suspect that you don’t have their undivided attention. And you can’t comfortably ask them to take the glasses off (especially when, inevitably, the device is integrated into prescription lenses). Finally – here’s where the problems really start – you don’t know if they’re taking a video of you.
Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.
Now, I know the response: “I’m recorded by security cameras all day, it doesn’t bother me, what’s the difference?” Hear me out – I’m not done. What makes Glass so unique is that it’s a Google project. And Google has the capacity to combine Glass with other technologies it owns.
First, take the video feeds from every Google Glass headset, worn by users worldwide. Regardless of whether video is only recorded temporarily, as in the first version of Glass, or always-on, as is certainly possible in future versions, the video all streams into Google’s own cloud of servers.
And Hurst goes on to illustrate the cascade of privacy pitfalls that will ensue.
So how world-shaking will the consumer release of Google Glass become as it rolls out later this year?
Remember what these breathless predictions were about?
“Cities will be built around this device,” predicted Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. “As big a deal as the PC, said Steve Jobs; maybe bigger than the Internet, said John Doerr, the venture capitalist behind Netscape, Amazon”.
That was before the owner of the revolutionary two-wheeled vehicle, Jimi Heselden, met an untimely death after driving over a cliff on his own Segway.
How many road accidents or fatalities will there be before Google Glass gains a reputation for not only undermining relationships but also posing a threat to life?