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Will Google Glass Blind Us To Reality?

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I swear I hated on Google Glass before Tim Cook made it cool to hate on Google Glass. But no one listened.

On Wednesday, the CEO of Apple dismissed the pair of glasses with a tiny mobile computer as "not likely to be a mass-market item." I'm glad he did. Cook finally made it socially acceptable to criticize the device without being called a luddite.

And there is lots to criticize.

Most Americans start with aesthetics. According to a survey by Bite Interactive, the primary reason 9 in 10 people would not wear Google Glass is for fear of looking "too socially awkward" (or maybe worse, becoming a glasshole).

Fair enough.

But as a four-eyes myself, the main reason I hate on Google Glass is simple: The device is a bad use of technology.

While I'm all for technological development -- the moment Skype first allowed my 91-year-old grandfather living in Canada to see his brother in Sicily after over a decade still warmsmyheart.com -- I think recent advancements by tech companies exclude more than they unite people.

For example, Facebook has been testing a feature that charges users money to send direct messages to people they aren't "friends" with. App.net is a new Twitter-style platform that users can only join for a fee. Rather than create an open community, these "advancements" build up the wall that already exists between those who can and can not afford Internet access.

Canada has a digital divide.

While 97 per cent of Canadians in the top income quartile have online access in their homes, according to Statistics Canada, that number is only 54 per cent for those in the bottom quartile. "In other words, nearly half of all Canadians with incomes of $30,000 or less do not have ready access to the Internet and programs aimed at closing this gap are sorely missing in Canada," wrote technology columnist Michael Geist in the Toronto Star.

Last April, Canada's government cut funding to Community Access Programs (CAP) that provided free or low-cost internet to community centres and libraries. There is currently no policy in the country aimed at digital inclusion for marginalized communities.

Big companies seem more focused on producing technology for what the 1 per cent want (or are told to want) rather than what the rest of the population needs. Google Glass is basically an iPhone on your face. It can record videos, take pictures, make phone calls, and instantly produce a picture of a tiger, all without that excruciating motion of reaching into your pocket! ( You just have to say "Ok Glass" followed by a request).

Two thousand people currently have trial models of Google Glass, and 8,000 have been selected to receive a pair of the early version for $1,500 each (the price of the final product is expected to be between $700 and $1,500).

The reality is that most people are struggling to afford real glasses, never mind the kind they can talk to.

Instead of making Google Glass (and whatever other devices the wearable tech trend produces) more inclusive (read: affordable), companies are creating add-ons to make life more convenient for a wealthy demographic. But sometimes inconveniences are there for a reason: They remind us of the problems that need fixing.

The homeless getting you down? Just un-see them! According to a recent piece in the New York Times, smart contact lenses could make them disappear from view (bound to be popular in Silicon Valley, where homelessness has risen 20 per cent in the past two years).

Craving more amateur porn? Not to worry! The first X-rated app for Google Glass has already been created and can be used to "get shots (sex-related and otherwise) that just aren't feasible using a traditional camera setup," according to a spokesman for porn film makers Pink Visual. Now that person who probably doesn't want to be in your porn video doesn't have to even know you are filming. Right on, Glass!

Exacerbating the digital divide has real-life consequences: A demographic becomes not only cut off from a snazzy new device, but from the evolution of society. As Jenna Wortham, a technology reporter for the New York Times, writes: "At the very least, the release of Glass could shape how we think about human and computer interactions, and -- considering Glass's abilities to quietly take photographs and record videos -- how we influence policies about privacy and public spaces. And it would be a shame if the only people who participate in this leap forward are those who can afford it."

While there are many companies using technology in good ways, it would be great if more of the big names put weight behind ideas that more people could afford and had practical use (a way to digitize tax receipts? A system that told you there is an hour-long wait for your doctor's appointment?).

Until the Googles and Facebooks stop prizing convenience for a small group of people over accessibility for all, "advancements" such as Google Glass will continue to divorce users from reality, rather than augment it.

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