Don’t Worry, You’ll Get Used To It


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.

11 thoughts on “Don’t Worry, You’ll Get Used To It

  1. Not quite sure what you mean that Libin’s comment might be a ‘slide into barbarism.” Technology will always grow to be part of our lives, whether you want it or not. Whether you think it’s good for you or not. You don’t see anyone drinking water from rivers in a city do you? If you did, what would you say? Would you be appalled that they would do such a thing when there is good, clean water right at the fountain across the street? Technology.

    Now, on the flip side, there really should be a goodly amount of wisdom that goes with such. Sadly this is always lacking in favour of the profit margins. I see it daily while I am living in South Korea. It’s like this weird experiment of ‘what would happen if aliens gave us super-tech?’ but didn’t give us any of the wisdom that went along with owning such a thing. The casualness in which Koreans upgrade their phones every year, abuse their financial resources and have near zero care for pedestrians while travelling in a 3000lb weapon that ignores stop signs and cross-walks. Yeah, it’s a good thing aliens don’t come and say “Hi, here is unlimited clean energy!”, sure as hell we’d blow the crap out of each other. Cynical? Perhaps. Given that super-tech has never implied instant enlightenment, no reason to see that changing anytime soon despite the geek in me being unable to wait to see how the future turns out.

    1. My use of “barbarism” was more rhetorical, paralleling Libin’s comment. Of course, I suspect he meant it a bit more concretely. My point was simply this: Sometimes the accommodations we make to certain technologies don’t prove that initial criticism were wrong, only that we are remarkably adept at lowering our standards to the patterns of technology use. So, I’m with you when, in your second paragraph, you talk about wisdom with regards to tech use. Some times, perhaps, wisdom entails refusal.

      1. Ah, indeed. I was toying a little bit with the idea of how our habit would change by only one simple thing was added to our world. I am fairly saddened by the way many of the kids here (South Korea) have so little respect for their environment (not to mention other people’s jobs of having to clean up after them) that what would happen if we suddenly had technology (umm…err…fusion??) where you could throw your trash into a ‘fusion generator'(read: garbage can). It kinda creeped me out how much more this disregard for ‘tossing things away’ mentality would sky-rocket.

  2. The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against allowing children ages two and under to watch television and other digital media, yet ads for smartphones, children’s programming, and now this encourage parents to do just that. That’s reason enough to find this troubling.

  3. “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.”

    I understand this quote completely and I and other Geeks are saddened. Not just with what’s happened in the past but what is going to take place in the future. By popular demand this is the end of the PC and Mac age. Like the dinosaur they will become extinct and no one will understand what they could do. They are the most sophisticated device ever known to mankind and because that it was doomed from the onset. Let’s face it computers are not popular, but game boys are. Computer usage has fallen as cassette tapes and CD’s, because of the law of Supply and Demand, with a major difference. Computers demise was due to computer illiteracy which is not spoken of today. Admittedly these gadgets with apps instead of applications are not computers.

    I was personally affected by database programs which were highly useful on DOS because they were menu and submenu driven. I had a database for most everything I needed to know. I converted an address book to multiple databases. I was able to change the field name and field length. Just select an entry from the menus’ and I was there.

    Database programs were good for organizing. Slowly but surely PC’s became incompetent. The only menus’ are in Office and other products you can purchase. I took years to organize by folders and I have to be obsessive compulsive about reorganization. One I reorganize I have to reorganize again. Many things I can’t find because of how the search program works.

    Now, I have forgotten what a menu driven database program is and can be used for. It is definitely not like you say I will look back on whatever apprehension I may now feel and think it quaint. I am suffering and will suffer more losses until I can’t get a computer anymore.

    I will not get used to it.

  4. I am just reading in this topic around the “Borg Complex”. Maybe someone can help me out here: If understood correctly, the Borg Complex addresses the issue that people assume or assert that resistance to technology is futile. OK, I got that. Who has investigated and explored alternatives and where? How would someone go about not using or even resisting a technology like email? Or can someone clarify this for me a little as I am curious and this really resonates with me. Thanks

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