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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Google Glass will be a big deal, so deal with it

May 20, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Perhaps no group has earned a borderline obscene pejorative as quickly as the wearers of Google Glass. I mean, the product, not due for release until early next year, is seen in the wild today only on the few thousand who are its early testers. And yet we already

have the term "glasshole." Google Glass has also been banned ahead of its release. This all seems to stem from the belief, voiced by writers such as Jason Perlow, that Google Glass is evil, since "it's a 'stealth' recording device."

My advice to anyone freaking out over Glass: Get over it.

Sure, there is something unsettling about the evolution of Glass. Eventually, you are going to have to look really closely to tell whether a pair of eyeglasses is computerized. And there's no question that Glass can be used in socially unacceptable ways. But personally, I'm a lot more bothered by the constant cracking of websites holding personal information than I am by the idea that someone could record me in the restroom.

No question: Glass is going to change how we think about privacy in public spaces. But such rethinking has already been necessary for years. Smartphones required it. For that matter, so did the invention of the camera.

In the past few weeks, I've seen people using smartphones to take photos, record videos, tweet and text during live performances in Broadway theaters and at rock 'n' roll music venues. In every restaurant I've patronized, at least a fifth of the people were locked into their tablets and smartphones, even as the people at the table with them were talking. I don't like it, and I'm not one of those people. But the genie is out of the bottle. Google Glass is just the next step toward the collapse of the barrier between the private and the public.

There's always good and bad with these sorts of developments. Sure, phone cameras brought us upskirt photos, but they also were the means of exposing the prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib. And there's nothing new about personal computing in the public sphere. There isn't even anything new about wearable computers. I first used a Xybernaut Poma Wearable PC in 2002. The technology made you look like a member of the Borg collective from Star Trek and was about as popular as being assimilated. With Google Glass, though, resistance might be futile.

With Google Glass and its imitators, that is. Other companies, such as Apple, Baidu and Telepathy, are building their own wearable computers. Indeed, I'll be very surprised if Google Glass is the first such product to market. And the technology won't be for nerds only. There are just far too many ways Google Glass and its cousins can be useful for this to be anything but a success. When you're conducting a job interview, you can unobtrusively look at the applicant's resume on LinkedIn or check what he's been posting publicly on Facebook. Your mechanic will be able to throw schematics onto his heads-up display as he works on your engine.

So stop crying about Google Glass and get used to how it's going to accelerate the blending of the public and the private. Yes, it's scary. But all sea-change technologies are frightening at first. The sooner you adapt, the sooner you'll be able to profit from it instead of being paralyzed by it.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bps was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.

Read more about Mobile/Wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.



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