Google Goggles

by Ursula K. Le Guin

One weird thing about being very old is never being sure whether it’s you or the other people who are weird. It’s pretty safe to assume that it’s you.

After all, people who walked along shouting at people who weren’t there used to be considered weird. But a few decades ago we dumped them all on the streets and thus made them average, though for a while you could consider them somewhat weird. By now, when somebody goes charging past on the sidewalk in Santa Cruz bellowing continuously at the top of his voice at a broker in Wichita, and you find that weird, you’re the weird one.

Where’s “here?” Where’s “there?” We and the people we talk to or “relate with” are increasingly neither here nor there.

Thus the great weird forward march of progress is soon to bring us “Heads Up Display Glasses” — Google Goggles. These devices will look like shades, but inside the lens on a tiny screen an inch from the goggle-wearer’s eye they will display indispensable information: where you the goggle-wearer are, maps of how to get there from here or here from there, where your friends are, how to contact them, your latitude, your altitude, your attitude — everything in the world, except the world.

Obviously, this technology can offer people whose sight is impaired an immense boon. Why don’t I trust us to limit it to that, maybe not even to use it for that?

The human desire to occasionally, temporarily, replace the actual world with some kind of improvement on it was nourished in its long infancy by the arts, and in its brief teens by movies and TV. Then ever-improving electronic technologies moved in and began to feed, maintain, and incite its appetite, which by now is insatiable. If we can shout on a phone or fill our ears with music instead of listening to the sounds or silence around us, we will. If we can text our Facebook Friends instead of seeing the faces around us, we will. If instead of looking around to find out where we are we can listen to a machine tell us where it thinks we are, we will; and if we can walk into a brick wall while the machine tells us it’s recalculating, we probably will.

The Google Goggles promise only GPS-type information, but what sort of pitiful Luddite is going to be content with that? Like us, our devices must multitask. They must do everything everything else does, only faster. If, instead of seeing where we’re going, we can read the latest Dow Jones figures an inch away with one eye and watch a ball game an inch away with the other eye, we will. The GPS can be programmed to warn us about the brick wall, or the kid on the tricycle, after all. They’re very reliable. Look how well they worked at CERN, proving that things can too go faster than light, nyah nyah for that old Luddite Einstein.

The crude, primitive glasses of the olden days improved vision. Google Goggles will replace vision. Who’ll want to see anything but the endless information, entertainment, and communication all there right before their eyes? Maybe some kind of nature nuts.

After all, if for some reason we want to see what the world looks like while we’re looking at something more interesting, we can be taking pictures with the hidden camera inside our goggles. We can photograph the people who stagger past us, tilting their heads strangely as they scroll and click, until they get hit by a taxi driver whose cloud was not managing the guidance system in full synchrony with realtime. Then we can put the pictures on our smart phone, or even on one of the little screens an inch away inside our goggles so we can look at them while the other screen tells us our longitude and the latest 5/4 Supreme Court decision (declaring that Super-PACs and fetuses are human and women are not).

It’s reassuring to think that wearing Google Goggles won’t interfere with walking or running or biking or driving, or anyhow hardly any more than cell phones and texting do. After the streets and highways have been more or less rendered impassable by carnage for a year or two, a few state legislatures will pass a bill to make it an offense to wear the goggles when driving in a nursery school zone or piloting a jet plane. Anything beyond that would infringe on our self-evident Constitutional right to access information, interface with our loved ones, and play games about killing people at all times in all places simultaneously.

To be sure, the article about the goggles in Slatest says that “the technology isn’t meant to be used all the time.” Ha, ha! Not used all the time? That’s pretty weird!

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King Dog: A Movie for the Mind’s Eye

A little background: The character of King Ashthera, with his dog, and his gambling streak, is derived from King Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata, the wonderful and interminable epic of India. When, towards the end of the story, Yudhisthira gets to Heaven, he is outraged to find some of his enemies are there, and some of his friends are not; and he decides not to enter Heaven at all unless they let his dog in with him.

I stole all that.

King Dog is available at the Book View Cafe eBookstore.

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Google Goggles — 9 Comments

  1. It seems the verdict is still pending on whether or not cell phones did brain damage.

    That’s the first thing that came to my mind when hearing of the google specs.

    Love, C.

  2. Life imitates Science Fiction. I’m thinking of Lyda Morehouse’s Archangel Protocol and related books where the Google Goggles have become and implant at birth and all business meetings are conducted in virtual reality where you design your avatar to reflect who you want to be rather than who you are.

    Why come back to reality when everything works better in virtual. Instead of capital punishment one has their implant surgically removed and must live in a tangible reality. Exile. Painful and leaves emotional scars that cannot be overcome. Or can they?

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  4. BTW, in case you weren’t being sarcastic, the faster than light neutrinos are fast becoming debunked. New Scientist has an article in the current issue that says the original experimenters found defects in their measurement apparati.

  5. I follow and agree with your point on ‘augmented’ reality. I trust the look and street behavior of early adopters will stigmatize the use of those goggles as it did for the gargoyles in Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

    Some of the excursions outside the main topic don’t add much to the discussion, though.

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  7. Though I must add that it would be lovely to have a pair of glasses that when I met someone at a party used its facial recognition software to tell me, “Her name is Anna, she’s married to your friend Gord, and you met her a year ago at Amy’s”. And as I get older, I could use that more and more….

  8. When people say, “I must write this down so I can remember it,” I often say, “No, you must write it down so you can forget it.” This is very often a disconcerting statement to people, but it is actually, factually true. But it makes people very angry to hear it. The truth is, if you want to remember things, then try to do so. That will develop your memory and keep it in tact as much as possible for as long as possible. My point being that we do not seem to want to think about why we really do things nor what the implications are of what we do. So to add to your thoughts, Ms. LeGuin, I wonder why we are so hellfire bent on not being where we are with the people we are with. GPS, for instance. I can hear someone saying, “Oh it makes me so much better able to get places.” No, it makes YOU much less able to get to places. So is it laziness, or fear of failure, or “loathing” of the real world, or desire for constant over-stimulation that makes us adore these technologies that actually mostly diminish us. (Not entirely, of course. I like to write and am happy we devised that technology. But I do not therefore write every single thought down, if you get the difference.) I suppose I am over-thinking it and it is actually advertising that makes us think we need/want all this junk to such excess.