Last week I came across this image in a short post at MIT Technology Review titled, “Growing Up With Google Glass.” To be clear at the outset, this image was photoshopped to accompany the story. When I posted the image to the Borg Complex tumblr, I offered it as a Borg Complex Rorschach test: What do you see? An inevitable future? Nothing to worry about? The advance of civilization? Then you may suffer from a Borg Complex.
I don’t, in fact, believe this to be an inevitable scenario, but it does strike me as entirely plausible. The post concludes with this:
“Most people at some point or another will have experienced a moment in which they realize the generation behind them has a very different relationship to technology – and hence to the world – than they do. Glass, which mediates a person’s relationship with the world more directly than other technologies, will likely produce its own share of such moments.”
Quite honestly, I’m not sure I fully get the sense of that paragraph. But it seems to suggest that there will come a time when this will be a perfectly ordinary scene and, when that time comes, people will look back on whatever apprehension we may now feel and think it quaint.
This is a common rejoinder to critiques of new technology. It goes something like this: “When a new technology appears, it always elicits concerns that in retrospect turn out to be overstated or misguided. Likewise, whatever concerns or apprehension we now experience will prove to be unfounded.”
I suspect this is sometimes true enough. But is it always? Consider this liminal moment with regards to Google Glass. We are at that stage in the life of a technology when its future remains remarkably malleable. Google is pushing to allay concerns and to naturalize the device, but not without resistance and opposition. You may look at this image and feel apprehensive. If, several years hence, it turns out that Google Glass (or something like it) becomes a taken-for-granted device – and scenes like the one imagined above become commonplace – will that necessarily mean that your concerns were misguided? I don’t think so. Could it not also be the case that genuine and substantive moral reservations were gradually eroded and then forgotten altogether. Eventual acceptance of a given state-of-affairs, after all, is no guarantee of its moral superiority. Consider it a future-tense extension of the naturalistic fallacy: simply because something comes to be the case, it does not follow that it ought to be the case.
Some time ago I cited Evernote CEO Phil Libin’s Borg-ish assertion, speaking of Google Glass style devices: “It’s going to seem barbaric to not have that stuff.” Perhaps. What he didn’t acknowledge is that such a judgment might itself be the symptom of a prior, forgotten slide into barbarism.