Over at Cult of Android, Mike Elgan has made the case that Google Glass should lose the camera due to the some of the public’s discomfort with its big brotherly implications. (Read his post here.) It is obvious from the title of this post that I disagree with him, but let me first summarize his position, starting with what he and I both agree on, followed by what we disagree on, and finally, my conclusion on how to fix it.
We both love Glass. We both love the camera that comes with it. I’ve done things on Glass that, while possible on a mobile phone, make it so simple, so effortless, and so much more fun, both for myself and those around me. Elgan makes the point that all the fuss over the camera is distracting from what Glass really is: “The problem is that the existence of Glass’s camera is distracting everyone, and causing the public to completely miss what this technology is all about.” Yep!
He also correctly points out that glasses with camera functionality have been around for yonks; devices in which mostly the camera is practically invisible—unlike with Glass. Still, Mike’s point is correct: the fact that Glass has a camera coupled with the fact that a person not familiar with Glass will not know when it is recording makes people nervous. But, it is not the camera itself; it is rather that the camera is pointing where ever the wearer is looking, and in almost every case, in that direction will be a person—potentially—unaware.
I agree with Mike also in the new relationship with technology that Glass presents to us. It is less intrusive, more personable, and more innovative than any new consumer gadget since the iPhone (but perhaps more still!). To have it derided over its least innovative feature is discomforting and requires remediative action so that the discussion is not hijacked by the extremes of opposing ends as so often happens with debates that protrude outwards over a new technology.
While I think his description of the problem is accurate, I can not say the same for his recommendation to fix it. His recommendation goes too far in prescribing an antidote: removing the camera. The omni-presentness of the camera, which is the real problem, needs to be mitigated, instead of its outright removal. To state it a different way, the problem is not that there is a camera, but that, potentially, it can be recording, and the recorded might be none the wiser. It is hard to argue the contrary. I mean, just look at it.
While both Mike and I agree that the camera is not a problem, the reaction to its presence is overblown, and, given these conditions, it is prudent to mitigate the public’s concern—however justified or unjustified—even though we diverge on the preferred solution. I think the solution is far less drastic than its simple removal as Elgan recommends, yet, being at the same time, acceptable to those who fear its big brother-ness. The solution to this dilemma is found in a dying breed of the stand-alone camera: the Point & Shoot (P&S). If you ever used a P&S, you’ll know that when you turn it off, the lens retracts and is automatically covered by a lens cover. When turning the camera back on, the lens cover retracts to allow photography. The lens cover serves two purposes:
1 – Its main purpose is to protect the lens from scratches, smudges, and dirt
2 – Its secondary purpose is to give at-a-glance knowledge on whether the camera is on or off.
What glass needs is a mini lens cover, or plastic protector, that covers the camera when it is not in use. However, a key differentiator between the P&S’s protector/cover and one that might be used by Glass is that for the latter, it will always be closed until the wearer takes a photo or records a video, in which case it opens only for the required duration to complete the action and re-closes. The intended effect being that unless one is in the process of using the camera, the camera cannot stealthily record the girl in the low-cut top across from a pervert in the coffee shop.
So, imagine if you will, the above on Glass. If the lens cover were closable, the camera would not only not be in use, but not able to be used. See below for an impression (forgive the crappy photoshop job). Further still, imagine if the lens cover is painted the same color as the Glass unit so that when the cover is closed, the Glass unit is a uniform color informing those around the glass-wearer with a quick glance (instead of an intruding glare) that photos and videos cannot be taken. To put it simply, if you see the little black dot, you know the camera is in use; if you don’t, not only is it not, but it can’t be. Simple and convenient, for both wearer and bystander.
If Google implemented this, the result would be that when any Glass wearer takes a photo or video, the lens cover would open, Glass would take the photo/video, and re-close the cover. Done in this manner, if one can see a black dot on the face of a Glass wearer, one can tell immediately whether he or she is taking a photo or video and act accordingly. (Name and shame is the name of the game.) The benefits far outweigh the current implementation (omnipresent camera) and Mike’s recommended solution (removing the camera).
Glass wearers get to keep and use their units to their heart’s content, and those wary of its wider release and use can be comfortable in knowing when it is being used, and, if necessary, confront the abuser of public privacy (as oxymoronic as that sounds).
Featured image from GizMag | Glass Camera Image from The Verge.