by Jen Turner
“It’s either the most exciting technology product of recent years, or the 21st Century equivalent of the Sinclair C5” (Cellan-Jones, 2013, n.p.). Google Glass (styled as “Google GLΛSS”) is a wearable computer with a head-mounted display (HMD) that is being developed by Google with the mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer. Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format, that can interact with the Internet via voice commands. While the frames do not currently have lenses fitted to them, Google is considering partnering with sunglass retailers such as Ray-Ban, and may also open retail stores to allow customers to try on the device.
When BBC News Technology journalist Rory Cellan-Jones took Glass for a stroll on the beach overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, the elderly dog walkers there were more amused about a strange Brit talking to himself than anxious about their privacy, although the majority felt the whole idea was rather more creepy than cool.
According to the report, where Google’s big idea impresses most is as a camera. The video footage is reportedly also much steadier than what you would gain from a shaky camera phone. Its strength lies in its ability to capture exactly what you see. The results are the kind of pictures you often miss with a camera you have to ready for action. And it is this head-mounted technology, combined with the voice commands that raise interesting points for geographers studying the inter-relationship between humans and technology.
It is widely accepted that new technology “increasingly affects/infects the minutiae of everyday life and corporeal existence” (Grosz 1994, 48), and that operating as assemblages, or with co-agents, bodily abilities are altered (Michael 2009). In his 2012 Area paper, Paul Barrett comments on the use of technology in a very different scenario: climbing. This paper adds to debates on bodies and materiality concerning how we experience places not only as bodies but as complex assemblages. It engages with the relations between climbers, their kit and the places in which they climb to explore how during the situated practice of climbing, climbers and material artefacts co-evolve resulting in a diverse array of synergies that co-enable the climb. In particular, Barrett focuses upon the use of ‘Cams’. Cams are spring loaded devices that are placed into parallel cracks in rock faces used to secure the climber’s ascent. Differing roles and functions emerge and are negotiated between climber, crag and kit. These roles and functions go beyond those detailed by manufacturer-ascribed use-values that define their ‘proposed’ or ‘proper’ role/s and limits within the climber’s safety assemblage. Drawing upon semi-structured interviews with climbers, Barrett uses Actor Network Theory to explore the enabling, situated, contingent and co-emergent relations between climbers and their kit and show how more-than-representational dimensions of their environmental engagements are dependent upon entering into symbolic and synergistic relationships with material others.
In a similar way, Google Glass uses technology to extend both the corporal being of the body and its capabilities of purpose. It promises to reshape our relationship with the online world – or turn us all into Donna Haraway’s infamous cyborgs. What is more, the ability to record others discretely in any given space leads us to questions surrounding how these human/technology relationships further invading each other’s privacy with careless abandon. But that’s another blog post….
Paul Barrett (2012) ‘My magic cam’: a more-than-representational account of the climbing assemblage, Area 44(1) pp. 46-53.
Rory Cellan-Jones, Google Glass – cool or creepy? BBC News Technology, 15 May 2013.
Mike Michael (2009) The cellphone-in-the-countryside: on some of the ironic spatialities of technonatures. In White, D. and Wilbert, C. eds. Technonatures: environments, technologies, spaces, and places in the twenty-first century, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, pp. 85–104.