Google Glass and the Symbolism of Technology

Recently, I’ve been coming across more and more links to pieces written at Medium, a relatively new platform created by some of the folks behind Blogger and Twitter. Finally, I was curious enough to sign up for an account and request an invite to post. Once I got set up, I cross-posted a couple of items that I’d already written here just to get a feel for the interface. As promised it’s clean, attractive, and very easy to use.

Today, I wrote up a new piece on Medium that I just published: “The Technological Symbol of Our Age: How Google Glass Crystalizes Our Fears and Aspirations.”

It takes Henry Adams’ famous discussion of the Virgin and the Dynamo as a point of departure to talk about how certain technologies take on a symbolic, sometimes quasi-religious significance. It wraps up with a discussion of how Google Glass might be just such a technological symbol. It also includes some interesting stuff on the early history of the airplane in America. Click over and give it read.

Oh, and of course, this blog remains my primary online home.

12 thoughts on “Google Glass and the Symbolism of Technology

  1. Hm. There is certainly a lot of fear, backlash, and symbolic doom surrounding Google Glass and the surveillance society it is said to represent. I’m also starting to see some of another classic theme surrounding new technologies once we get used to the idea of them: “Oh, whatever, it doesn’t really do anything anyway.” But (and maybe I’ve just missed it), I haven’t seen much of the other side of the sublime, the flipside of and complement to the fear–the overwhelming awe and hysterical excitement that has historically accompanied new technologies. Have you seen it and I just didn’t notice? That’s entirely possible.

    1. No, there’s nothing of the sublime I don’t think (although I’ve read a few pretty glowing, ecstatic reviews). I think I should’ve done a better job of distinguishing between a technology as symbol and Nye’s technological sublime. They can overlap, as I see it, but they’re not quite the same thing.

      1. Great piece Michael.

        As to a lack of the sublime, I think it might be the sublime tends to come earlier, in the first scouting waves of a new possible-technology, and less so with the actual execution. (I’m thinking of BERG’s tiny films, the runway of science fiction film and literature to IRL interfaces and jobs-to-be-solved technologies). As the tech approaches an executable form its no longer so fuzzy, there will have been enough iterations towards it that we can reasonably see the edges we’ll bump our heads on. By the time the media gets to it there is enough cumulative bad mojo in the tech’s earlier forms (worst case scenarios most likely), that bad + bad +bad + bad = this thing’s new bad news.

  2. Have not read yet, but just as a note: there are comments at Medium, they are “notes” to be left on the right side of individual paragraphs/sections (you’ll see a small word bubble with a “+” in it as you mouse over a part).

  3. Michael, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your blog! It is brilliant, provocative and the most forward-thinking blog online. Please keep it up as it is an enlightening source and catalyst this planet so desperately needs! Sincerely, Mark Allison

    Sent from da phone

  4. Just read your article…”Our most powerful technologies both promise salvation and threaten destruction.” Yeah, definitely. I just had a look at Google glass, and it certainly stirred different emotions: both joy and fear at the realization of possibilities. I was just talking about nanotechnology with a friend, and I have the same reaction there. We concluded that humanity still has some growing up to do, and until then, I guess we’ll always have mixed emotions about these great leaps in technology.

    Thanks for the interesting article and introduction to Medium!

  5. This is the first I’ve heard of “Medium” and I am intrigued. I’ve also been contemplating finally caving in and getting on Twitter, it seems that it is more and more becoming the gateway platform. I’ve resisted for so long, though, it seems a shame to give up now!

    By the way, your blog is one of my “5 blogs I would take with me to a deserted island,” thought you might like to know. ;)

    1. Well, I’d be the last person to encourage you to give up the resistance. I’m on Twitter and I have love/hate relationship with it. Actually, it’s not that strong, more of a like/dislike relationship I suppose. I think that temperament matters, and mine doesn’t quite fit easily with Twitter. But, that said, it can be a really useful tool.

      And, of course, I’m honored. I’m also reminded of GK Chesterton’s reply when asked what book he would want if he where stranded on an island: “I would choose Thomas’ Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.” : )

      1. Too late for the warning, I made my twitter account yesterday. I’m still feeling a bit like a deer in the headlights…

        And you’re not the first to share the sentiment that I perhaps should have chosen more practical blogs for surviving a deserted island. That wasn’t really the point of the exercise, but still… thankfully Byronic Man has offered to write me some posts like “how to kill a wild board with things you find lying around” so that helps ;)

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