Glass Reality

As of this past Tuesday, my fiancĂ© has a new "toy" (as I'm prone to call it): Google Glass (by the way, I still find the app name, Google Goggles, much wittier. Now they just need to make it run on Glass). Understandably, he is quite proud to have it. Since Glass is still in beta-testing, getting it required an invite from a person already owning it — which happened to be a close friend of his who acquired his 'right' to beta-test at Google I/O — along with a ridiculous amount of money (something I will certainly use as a bargaining chip in the future). This, however, makes Glass quite special in a social sense, and he certainly gets a lot of attention from people intrigued by it (click here for a hilarious youtube video compiled by someone who's already owned it for a while and who is summarizing people's reaction to Glass — yep; those reactions are quite faithfully represented. And no. It's not recording you all the time.).

And yet, perhaps Glass is special not only in a social sense, but also as a piece of hardware that changes our understanding of media. We know at least since reading Kirschenbaum a few weeks ago that the borders between hardware and software can get quite blurry, and Google Glass perhaps constitutes a prime example of where at least the perception of which is which becomes almost indistinguishable. When Manovich, in Software Takes Command, considers the hybridization of software, then, I cannot help but wonder if this hybridization extends also to hardware — in other words (Manovich's), if "one of the key mechanisms responsible for the invention of … new media … is hybridization" (176, emphasis in original), then perhaps it could also be the literal mechanism (in this case, Google Glass) that hybridizes with the medium itself, thus and thereby constituting a new medium in itself.

At the current stage, Google Glass certainly still exhibits some markers of multi-media insofar as the camera and screen-viewing properties it entertains yet maintain the functional properties of the original (we are still taking pictures, and video, for example). Yet other properties (and, more importantly, possibilities) of Glass don't seem to fit quite as neatly into Manovich's definition of multi-media. For example, assuming that Google Goggles will work on Glass soon (which is only a matter of time), wouldn't the app's recognition of specific markers in real time as displayed not on a smartphone screen, but within one's field of vision (and thus largely invisible to others) not only translate into the acquisition of "new properties" (Manovich 171), but also into a change "of what we think of as 'media'" (Manovich 182)? What I mean is, if everyone was wearing Glass (as was the case a few years ago with those annoying Bluetooth devices), do we even think of the possibilities Glass could provide (such as remembering the name of the person right in front of you) as a media-induced process, or does Glass (as Bluetooth) perhaps become a tool, a prosthetic, an extension to our daily functionabilities — entirely 'invisible' to the user itself precisely because the boundary of usage (looking at a screen) and natural recognition (seeing things right in front of us) is blurred? Even further, what about the voice recognition functionality of Glass? At least theoretically, you could give Glass a name other than "Glass" and then Glass would very much assume a personality in itself (at least in the linguistic sense). "Okay, Mike, take a picture." "Okay, Mike, show me where the closest coffee shop is." Well, at least, unlike Siri, Mike isn't as feisty — somewhat of a comforting thought.

Ultimately, however, the point I'm trying to make here is that, with an ever-faster evolution of software "species", to borrow Manovich's metaphors, also comes an ever-faster change in our recognition of the world around us, and of the tools we use to experience it as such. I often do, already, sometimes wonder at how natural it has become for us to be able to simply look up information on Google, for example — it very much has become a natural function for me to be able to do so, one that doesn't even require second thought. So, now, with the advent of Google Glass, we literally will see the world differently. As McLuhan argued a while back, "the medium is the message." If I look through Glass, I see the world through a medium (even if it becomes, with practice, a naturalized process to do so), thus perhaps changing the 'message' in profound ways. Or maybe Manovich already foresaw Glass when he wrote that "by inventing new techniques, or through the innovative application of existing techniques — and by finding new ways to represent the world, the human being, and the data, and new ways for people to connect, share, and collaborate — you can expand the boundaries of 'media after software'" (341). I guess, we'll have to wait and see.

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