Friday, February 22, 2013

Google Glass: the next tech press cargo-cult

The tech press rarely, if ever, sees the downside of a gadget when they begin hyping it.

iTunes turned property (the CD) into a license without a whisper. E-readers did the same with books – complete with revocation of licenses, lending / gift restrictions and so on. Smartphones work hard to eliminate privacy. Games platforms are trying to do away with ownership of games, just as iTunes did with CDs.

The lesson repeated but never learned is simple: gadget-makers have a result in mind when they design things. They’re not acting at random. The licensing models are worked out by lawyers before the product is launched; strategies exist.

And we come to Google’s Project Glass: the gadget is getting lots of love before it even exists, and there are no downsides.

Google once wanted to “organise” the world’s information. Nothing wrong with that, as an ideal.

But there are dangers in encouraging Google to own every possible information-delivery channel right down to the eyeballs.

Sure, won’t it be cool? Someone wants to design an app that will estimate the weight of vegetables in the shop, just by looking at them. Wow! (Dude, there’s a set of scales just over there.) Someone wants to give you a heads-up map (because it’s so much trouble actually knowing where you’re headed).

There will be ads, the inevitable ads, and data collection: because you won’t get your cool “augmented reality” (by the way, one of the most odious expressions the tech sector has contrived) for free.

You can bet that such considerations would be in tech journalists’ minds, considering that they completely missed the downsides of iTunes etcetera years ago?

No. They’re worried about whether Google Glass will (a) arrive soon enough for them to write reviews of them and (b) whether they will brand the wearer as a “geek” and therefore never take off.

It has, as I hinted in the headline, a characteristic of the cargo cult. Google will drop its next wonder on the waiting tribe, who construct a religion around their own dependency.

No comments: