This week, news surfaced that the much-anticipated Google Glass is to be taken for its first test run around cities across America. A far cry from other electronic gadgets on the market that lead hundreds of thousands of potential buyers to queue for hours at store fronts in order to purchase the latest model, Google has opted for hand-picking a small group of individuals who will be the first to own Google Glass.
The fact that a company would want to limit the number of potential buyers may seem strange and counter-productive at first, but in fact it is a unique marketing ploy to ensure that the Glass is endowed with the special reputation of a verified status symbol for the rich and trendy. While some commentators believe that this new approach is meant to ensure that a diverse and talented group of individuals has first dibs on the latest technology, the outrageous price tag and long list of elite celebrities who were “lucky” enough to win the If I had Glass Competition, belies any benevolent motives behind the conglomerate’s strategy.
When members of the 1% are educed to compete for the privilege of paying a multi-billion dollar company $1,500 a pop for a pair of glasses that make them look like a posse of celebrity cyborgs, one can’t help but wonder if we haven’t already been transported into an alternate reality.
That such an intricate and complex device should first be made available to those with the skills and knowledge of how to use it, is a somewhat plausible argument, but unfortunately, it is difficult to believe that meritocracy was a real factor in determining who was able to fork over a wad of cash that exceeds most people’s monthly rent. In a New York Times piece last week, Jenna Worthman claimed that the glasses are “being made available largely to developers and people who are eager to figure out how to build applications for them,” but is this really the case?
Sure, the If I had Glass Competition claimed to be seeking the most creative individuals with proposals for developing new apps for the Glass, but the process for selecting the competition’s winners was far from transparent. Additionally, the guidelines openly mentioned that “influence” and “reach” would be factors in deciding the lucky winners. Google obviously had no shortage of influential contenders for this competition. The list of winners includes celebrities such as actor Neil Patrick Harris, actress Alyssa Milano, singer Brandy Norwood, actor LeVar Burton (who should be accustomed to sporting futuristic eyewear after his role in Star Trek), director Kevin Smith, rapper Soulja Boy, and politician Newt Gingrich.
Aside from questions of accessibility, there are a variety of concerns being raised about the Google Glass. Will it change the nature of Internet privacy as we know it? Will it succeed in becoming a popular product with the general public? Will it transform the nature of human interaction so completely that it will no longer be possible to hold a real conversation without the help of some digital device? Will it burn the retina right off of future generations?
These are all questions that remain to be answered. What seems instantly clear, however, is that Google is brazenly embracing a policy that ensures that the exceedingly wealthy are the first to gain access to communication technologies. As the blogger Jesse Brown mentioned on the website Macleans.ca, “If technology is power, and if Google Glass is the game-changing device it might be, then limiting its user base to only those who can afford it, or those deemed worthy, seems like a great way to help the rich get richer.” Considering the heretofore-democratic nature of the internet and its potential to influence politics and society, giving the privileged even more privileges in relation to the web is a very dangerous trend indeed.
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