Saturday, March 16, 2013

Glass and the Downfall of Society

Edward Champion wrote an interesting article detailing 35 reasons why Google Glass is a bad thing. He actually makes a couple of good points, but he also repeats his arguments, uses some incredibly flawed logic, and makes some points that apply equally to smartphones, cameraphones, laptops, and other devices. In general, he also turns the entire thing into a strawman hackjob.

Champion leads with a Sergei Brin quote lifted from the Wall Street Journal regarding what exactly Glass is. The quote is from an interview in which Brin is responding to questions from reporters. Against typical journalistic conventions, Champion is careful to include in the quote the several "uh"s used by Brin. Brin is an IT worker, not a public speaker. He's not the CEO of the company (that would be Larry Page, his fellow cofounder) because Brin preferred to stay free to work on projects like Glass. Champion could have removed the "uh"s from the quote, or he could have used one of a million other quotes that define Glass, or he could have simply summed up Glass himself. It seems pretty clear that he chose this quote because, when written, it makes Brin look like he can barely string together a sentence. Champion apparently has to attack the messenger because his argument is too weak to stand on its own.

Champion then discusses the price, citing an article from the Verge, and then has the audacity to suggest that Glass is "propped up by ostensible "journalists" who have never thought to question Mr. Brin’s brilliant PR." Of course, since Champion just cited the Verge he presumably read Joshua Topolsky's lengthy hands on with Glass, published that same day as the article Champion cited in which he spends a significant amount of time questioning privacy issues and the possible impact on society. Or Ellis Hamburger's piece from earlier this month questioning whether Glass could "drown us in data." Suggesting that journalists have not questioned Glass or Brin is not only factually incorrect, it is morally repugnant, and another straw man which Champion happily tears down.
Anyway, on to the "arguments."

Argument One: It could destroy whatever shreds of privacy we have left.

Champion's case seems to be revolving around the fact that data will be uploaded to Google's servers, and video including people could be indexed and tagged without the user even realizing. This is true, but is equally true for smartphones, or any video files stored in the cloud. This is an argument against the internet, not Glass. Champion then gets into some farfetched dystopian bullshit about a future where Google sells you your privacy, which is so ridiculous and out there that it's not even worth addressing. Also, again not directly an argument against Glass.

Argument Two: It will turn the United States into a surveillance state.
I don't live in the United States, but Canada isn't that different. Yes, if I do something illegal, I am more likely to be caught. If I do something immoral, I am more likely to be exposed. That could really be inconvenient, but it's mostly an extension of the existing smartphone paradigm.

Champion gives the example of two same sex individuals having public sexual intercourse, being caught on camera, and being fired from their jobs for it. That would be absolutely wrong and tragic. However, that would not be absolutely wrong and tragic because they had their photo taken. though I'd feel sorry for them, and I don't think it's right to take pictures in that case, they took that risk when they decided to have public sex. What is truly wrong and tragic is if they were fired for having same sex intercourse. That is the problem here, not Glass. This is another straw man.

Argument Three: It will hold more people needlessly accountable for easily pardonable activities.
This is true, but again an extension of the existing smartphone paradigm. Also, there is a case to be made that if everyone has their personal life publicly available, it will make it impossible to fire someone for (heaven forbid) drinking alcohol in their personal time, as in the case Champion cites, because everyone will have photos on the internet of them holding alcoholic beverages.

Argument Four: It is remarkably easy to steal a pair of glasses.
This is true. Don't be an idiot. Don't walk around at night, or in bad neighbourhoods, with a $1500 pair of glasses on. Use some common sense, and most people will be fine. As Champion himself says, there are always a lot of thefts in the early days of a computing technology. Glass will be no different. Does that mean we should stop inventing new technologies? At some point Glass will die or become so ubiquitous and cheap that it won't be worth stealing.

Champion also makes an argument that a stolen Glass could lead to identity theft. He's making a huge assumption as to how Glass will work here (as in, no security or protections whatsoever) and ignoring that smartphones offer the same problems.

Argument Five: It gives Google far more personal information than it needs to know.
Define "needs to know." It is true that Google is collecting your personal data. They use this data to improve their advertising service, the profits of which go into developing the free software they distribute. This is true of Google Search, Google+, Chrome, Android, and their many other products and services. The more information they have, the more they can make from ads, the more they can invest into delivering better products. If you have a problem with it, and there are many who do for good reason, then use a different set of products or services. However, I don't know why Champion feels he gets to set the line on exactly how much Google "needs to know."

Argument Six: It will open new possibilities for online sexual extortion.
This is, again, just an extension of the smartphone paradigm. It's a problem that extends to cameraphones and computer services like Skype. The solution isn't to stifle innovation, it's to improve protective legislation and increase the power and scope of law enforcement to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Argument Seven: It may increase violence.
It may, or it may not. Did cameraphones increase violence? Google has said that the point of the Explorer program is to see how people develop social norms around Glass.

Argument Eight: It will discourage personal risk.
Champion seems to believe Glass is recording at all times, which isn't true. Even still, in this day and age, people should assume they're on camera at all times anyway. They probably are. The presence of Glass shouldn't change that.

Argument Nine: We have no idea what health problems Glass will create.
Champion makes a rare good point here: we should be concerned about this, and we should be studying it. However, there is plenty of evidence that SAR is harmless. It's likely that the impact of Glass on brain health will be nil.

Argument Ten: It may increase violations of doctor-patient confidentiality and attorney-client privilege.
This is just stupid. The solution to doctors and lawyers having unencrypted smartphones stolen is to encrypt their smartphones, not take them away. Any doctor who takes pictures of patients' files, or lawyers who use Glass to record interviews with clients, is incompetent anyway. Again, does Champion not realize that Glass isn't recording at all times?

Argument Eleven: It could be hacked.
So could your smartphone or your webcam. Let's all go back to lettermail communication only folks, because you never know when you might get hacked.

Argument Twelve: It will discourage anonymity.
Yes, it might. Want to be anonymous? Don't use Glass. Of course, Champion's whole argument here is completely unrelated to Glass, and rambles on about some idiot who didn't pay attention to what he was doing and was appalled that he used his real name on an app review.

Argument Thirteen: It isn’t distinct enough from the body.

This is barely even coherent. It sounds like Champion wants Glass to be a useless fashion statement, rather than a function-over-form personal device.

Argument Fourteen: It could give the police far more details about you than you can possibly know.
If you live somewhere where you do not feel that you can trust the police force to act in your best interest, don't use Glass. In fact, don't use any service that uploads reams of information on you to the internet. This is common sense.

Also, don't make drunken sex videos with people wearing Glass.

Argument Fifteen: It will discourage kindness and respect.
Glass will not discourage kindness and respect. As Champion himself notes, if people want to be dicks with cameras, they already do. Blame the people, not the tools. Also, Champion seems to go off on some utterly insane tangent about how the leaking of the Abu Ghraib pictures was somehow a bad thing. Dude seems to be losing it.

Argument Sixteen: Artists will be held more accountable for material that "offends."
Easy solution here: if you don't want them to record you, make people take off Glass while watching a standup comedian perform.

Argument Seventeen: It may kill off what remains of the moviegoing experience.
I hate people talking or texting in movies. It drives me absolutely insane. Put away your damn phone for a couple of hours. Again, this is the person, not the tool. Plus, Glass won't have the annoyingly bright LCD bothering me.

As for piracy concerns, have fun watching a movie that was recorded by a head mounted camera. You think people can keep their heads perfectly still for two hours? Of course, had Champion done his research, he'd know that Glass records in short bursts (and almost certainly doesn't have the battery for a full movie). He'd also know that Glass is removable from prescription glasses, so people can just take it off to get into media events.

Argument Eighteen: It will create problems with consent.
Why is it Google's job to make you aware of your rights. They need to let you know what they will be getting from you, and that's it. Whether you agree or not is your choice. Should they send a damn lawyer to your house to explain it?

Argument Nineteen: Cool places will be outed by boors.
Good restaurants will become popular. How tragic. I'm sure the hardworking owners and staff will be so disappointed to be recognized for their quality and hard work. Seriously, this one is just patently ridiculous.

Argument Twenty: It will discourage people from paying attention.
Just because you get an email notification in Glass doesn't mean you have to ignore the person you're talking to in order to attend to it right away. In fact, that is the whole point of Glass, to allow you to know you have an email and make a value call on its importance without interrupting what you're already doing. Champion is just way off base here.

Argument Twenty-One: It will turn more strangers into stalkers.
This is just Champion being intentionally ignorant. Yes, you can use Glass to help you find people. You can do this only if they have actively shared their location with you. It leverages Latitude, a Google service which already exists. Don't want someone to stalk you? Don't make your location public.

Argument Twenty-Two: It will create more cyberbullying and stress.
This is just argument eleven repeated. Also, Champion is assuming Google will allow users to remotely activate and view the camera, which is not a given at all.

Argument Twenty-Three: It could make you more willing to believe lies.
This is, again, barely coherent, but I think Champion is arguing that if you're getting information from friends through Glass you're more likely to believe it? Champion again seems to be making huge leaps as to how Glass will function, and doesn't explain at all how this is different from a smartphone, and generally seems to really, really be reaching here.

Argument Twenty-Four: It will create more needless distraction.
This is again just an extension of the smartphone paradigm. It's also counter-intuitive: Champion makes an argument that smartphone picture-taking is negatively impacting weddings but that if people could take pictures of exactly what they're seeing without needing to get out a smartphone and get in other people's way this would somehow be a bad thing.

Argument Twenty-Five: It will expand the Streisand effect to an unprecedented level.
There might be something here, except that Champion makes absolutely no connection to Glass. We already take pictures with our smartphones and upload them to the internet. The only difference is we might take more pictures. What this has to do with unflattering pictures being leaked and circulated is beyond me.

Argument Twenty-Six: It could prevent people from discovering themselves.
You know, Glass does turn off, just like your smartphone, tablet, and laptop. And even wearing it you can probably get good and lost, if you want to. I sometimes do, on purpose while wandering Toronto, even with my smartphone.

Argument Twenty-Seven: It will discourage people from seeking unfamiliar viewpoints.
I'd argue that social media has made it much easier to find (or be presented with) unfamiliar viewpoints. I was linked to Champion's article via Twitter.

As for the fact that you can block people in Google Hangouts, how is this any different from screening calls and hanging up on people? Hangouts are meant to function like group video phone calls.

Argument Twenty-Eight: It could create another place where advertisement takes over our lives.
Yes, it is possible that Google might one day add ads to Glass. But any company might one day add ads to any product or service. We can't live in fear of that at all times.

Argument Twenty-Nine: It will create needless competition over who has the most worthwhile life experience.
This is just silly. It gives people a way to share the most awesome things they do in their life. Getting to see something really cool that my friend did from his perspective will not make me feel inadequate, because I am not petty and shallow. Does looking at people's vacation pictures make you feel like a loser? If so, there may be something more fundamentally wrong.

Argument Thirty: It will discourage people from striking up conversations with strangers.
Champion goes on a crazy rant about how people won't ask for book recommendations because Glass can already tell them where the music section is and people might be spying on him. Again, he makes huge logical leaps regarding the functionality of Glass, and he assumes (for no apparent reason) that because people can have their directional questions answered by a computer, they won't ask reference questions anymore. Just because my GPS can direct me around New York City, that doesn't mean I wouldn't look online and ask people I know who have been there for advice on what to see and do.

Argument Thirty-One: It could discourage companies from hiring people.
This makes absolutely no sense at all. Yes, this might be the death knell for Wal-Mart greeters (and we'll all mourn their passing, I'm sure), but why would stores eliminate customer service reps and returns desks just because people are wearing Glass? We all have phones in our pockets which we could use to call a customer service line right now. Hell, my phone could even do a Hangout with a customer service rep. Why does Glass change anything here?

Argument Thirty-Two: It will create unfair advantages for online retailers.
This is just another extension of the smartphone paradigm. In many industries, retail stores are a dying model, and Glass isn't going to be the difference maker. Amazon is just better at it. We should embrace the future of retail, not demonize it. If small stores do something better than online retailers, they will survive. If they don't, they don't deserve to survive.

Argument Thirty-Three: It could usher in a new form of vertical integration and that does not compensate talent.
Boo hoo, Google isn't paying users enough for the views that they get when they upload videos to YouTube. Apparently, the fact that Google is providing a free video sharing service for all isn't enough. In that case, there are many competitors.

Google services dominating the world is a real concern. We should want to see more competition and innovation. YouTube underpaying viral video uploaders is not a concern. Champion misses the mark here.

Argument Thirty-Four: It will make driving dangerous.
More dangerous than hands-free GPS and phone calls? That's debateable. However, it is a driver's choice to read an email while driving, just as it is their choice to do so on their smartphone. If they want to be reckless and irresponsible, they already can be. Again, blame the person, not the tool.

Argument Thirty-Five: It could attempt to erase people in need from existence, as well as serious problems that we cannot ignore.
Champion details some creepy sounding German technology that can be inserted into contact lenses and remove homeless people from view. This sounds awful. This technology is not in Glass. this technology could not be in Glass, the way Glass is constituted. The fact that this technology might one day come to market is not directly related to Glass. This is pure fear-mongering.

Thus ends Champion's series of flawed and fallacious arguments. However, the best may be yet to come. Champion proceeds to (rightly) lionize Steve Jobs for the iPhone. There is no question that the iPhone changed the smartphone industry for the better, and maybe even changed the world. However, Champion then proceeds to get more than a little ridiculous.

Champion begins to contrast Jobs and Sergei Brin. He paints Jobs as an eloquent speaker and presenter who could really deliver a hello of a sales pitch for a product and make you believe in it. Brin, on the other hand, he describes as nervous and uncertain, with a little bit of bumbling geekishness. All of this is true, but putting aside the fact that Brin is not to Google as Jobs was to Apple, as I pointed out in the beginning; what the hell does that have to do with the product itself? How is the fact that Jobs is eloquent and dynamic and Brin is not even remotely relevant to the value of the iPhone and the value of Glass? Are we seriously rating products based on the quality of their spokesperson?

Champion ends his piece with perhaps his most over-the-top insanity of all, stating that "Jobs believed that the iPhone was for everyone. For Brin, Glass is for a privileged elite." Let's ignore the fact that we're comparing two completely different products for a moment. Let's also ignore the fact that for Google, the more people wearing Glass the better (not just the "privileged elite"). The fact that Champion can one-eighty from the defender of the poor and down-trodden in his last argument, to claiming that a six-hundred dollar device is for everyone is just mind-blowlingly audacious. Apple has steadfastly refused to enter the low-cost smartphone segment, a market Google's Android now owns, because they want to remain in the elite upper market. They have the highest profit margins of any smartphone manufacturer in the world, and they continue to maintain high prices. They try to be the definition of elite. The iPhone is not for everyone. It's for everyone who can afford it.

***

I'm throwing this in here, because I think it's related. I've seen this tweet retweeted a few times the past few days, and I take personal issue with it.


I like to read. I'll admit that I don't really "get" a lot of visual art (I think it has to do with the colour blindness), but I respect it. I like good books, journalism, theatre, and culture. I also like gadgets. The two are not mutually exclusive. Suggesting they are is a straw man argument which is insulting to those who like one or the other.

No comments:

Post a Comment