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Evan Schuman: Fear of Glass

Evan Schuman | Jan. 27, 2014
Google Glass is just the latest technological advance to elicit fear and dread in some quarters, including law enforcement.

The Shadow Recruit incident followed one in which a California woman was charged with distracted driving after she was spotted driving while wearing Google Glass. That charge was dismissed in court because it couldn't be proved that Glass had been turned on while she was driving.

None of this is new, really. We see similar things whenever the advance of technology outpaces people's ability to adapt. Do you remember when the Internet was first starting to spread among the general population? There was outrage at the time that military servers were storing thousands of naughty pictures. What was that newfangled Internet thingy unleashing? Many things, but in the case of the X-rated material on the military servers, that was a result of personnel wanting access to Usenet newsgroups. As many of you probably recall, a server used to access a newsgroup in those days had to download all of the group discussions and postings. I also remember that there once were calls to ban Web access because it could be used to facilitate crimes -- but no accompanying attempt to ban analog phone lines, even though they could be used to coordinate bank robberies or make obscene phone calls. Everyone was comfortable with the telephone by then and knew that its benefits far outweighed such potential dangers. But the Web? Unknown territory. Nonetheless, this sort of thing just keeps happening. Just this week, I told you about someone who was jailed because police didn't understand how Google+ works.

My point is not that law enforcement or people in general are stupid. Rather, it is all too easy to let fear of the unfamiliar overrule reason. I am not the only person who has noticed this, of course. In fact, the Columbus situation reminds me of a classic Doonesbury comic strip, published several weeks after 9/11, depicting FBI agents overreacting when they encounter an American of Middle Eastern ancsestry who's attending Pilot school. (There's a reason I've capitalized the word "Pilot," but I'll let you take a look at the cartoon to get the joke.)

And I do sense fear of wearables in this statement from AMC spokesperson Ryan Noonan: "While we're huge fans of technology and innovation, wearing a device that has the capability to record video is not appropriate at the movie theater." The moviegoer himself said something that acknowledges that such a fear is pervasive and implies that users of unfamiliar technology should accommodate it: "I realize it's stupid to have a device with a camera pointed at the screen. But I didn't even think of it because I don't use Google Glass to record other people."


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