Google Glass complainers are concerned about the loss of privacy. Isn't it a bit late for that?

Plus: Who let Sebastian Faulks do a new Wodehouse? My envy is unconstrained

Share

Google is about to launch a new device which will take our relationship with the virtual world to quite a different level of engagement. The Google Glass, demonstrated by the Google founder Sergey Brin at a press conference this week, is a miniaturised camera and web browser attached to a pair of glasses. As you walk along the street, you will be alerted to incoming emails and social media entries. You may give voice commands and surf the web as it appears before your eyes. You may, too, film and record what is in front of you without going to the trouble of raising a camera or a smartphone.

Of course, nobody who has one of these horrible-sounding devices will ever write a novel or a poem. They will forget how to hold an interesting conversation with another human being; will be simply terrible parents; will, happily, have numbers of facial bruises due to walking into lampposts while watching Kim Kardashian on YouTube. Interestingly, however, the objection that this device will permanently detach individuals from the world around them was not the first one voiced. This week, most people who objected to Google Glass did so because, they said, it was an invasion of privacy to film someone without telling them you were doing so. There is no way of telling whether you are talking in private, or whether your conversation is shortly to be uploaded and seen by chortling dozens.

Google has form in this area. It tried to insist living authors no longer had the right to their own books. Its Street View project brought people’s neighbourhoods and some of their private lives into the public domain without asking. It regards the private history of an individual’s engagement with the internet as its property. Why on earth would it think that somebody would object to being filmed, or need to be asked in advance? Still, I gave a hollow laugh when I read some of the outrage being expressed at this. You worry about being filmed without your consent? And you live in England?

Last night I stayed in a hotel in Bath – an ordinary, respectable, not luxurious hotel. At the entrance, in every hallway, on every staircase, on every landing, there was a camera filming every move. I don’t know – maybe they thought one was about to steal an aspidistra. This is not unusual. If you walk down your local high street, there is probably a CCTV unit every 20 yards or even less. Did anyone ask you whether you wanted one? Every piece of research demonstrates that CCTV is far less use in preventing crime than simply improving street lighting. But still surveillance grows. Why? Well, the same reason that people will buy the Google Glass. People simply love the idea of filming strangers.

If you walk down a street with a video camera and film strangers, you will get an outraged and perhaps even violent response. But there are video cameras fixed to the walls, also filming them. Why does that matter less? The cameras have been put up by the police, by local authorities, by businesses, even by individuals. Some of the uses to which they have been put are outrageous. Oxford City Council decided to film passengers in taxis, and to record their conversation. Others have used their powers of surveillance to discover whether people were really living where they claimed, to track down people dropping litter or cigarette butts. Suffolk County Council used them to intrude into a commercial dating service. Other public authorities, including the BBC, have refused to disclose what they use surveillance techniques to discover.

Some curbs have come into effect since last November. Not enough. Do we really suppose that some of these local authorities and small businesses are the slightest bit more responsible than a drunk student in a nightclub? No. Of course not. Both the drunk student and the local authority are filming strangers on not much more than a whim. There is no privacy any longer, and you might as well accept that you are being filmed at this exact moment.

I loathe and detest the idea of Google Glass. We would be much better off, in our relations with each other, if computers had remained sitting in a bulky manner on desks at home. But to object to this development because you want to live free from the recording attention of ignorant and irresponsible strangers – I’m afraid you’re too late for that one. Perhaps you should have raised it before Britain found itself in possession of millions of wall-mounted cameras, operated by God knows who, for God knows what end.

From James Bond to Jeeves and Wooster

Sebastian Faulks has been commissioned to write a new novel in the style of P G Wodehouse. My envy is unconstrained. The James Bond franchise has regularly commissioned new novels, including one from Faulks himself, and sequels to classic works are 10 a penny. But I don’t think that anyone has been allowed to write a new Wodehouse, outside online fan fiction. There, Jeeves and Bertie live a curious afterlife, often in unsuspected romantic clinches with each other.

There are so many real novels by Wodehouse that only a real obsessive can claim to have read them all – there must be nearly 100, so the need for a new volume is not obvious. But to the real aficionado, the joy would be the permission to emulate one of the great users of English of the 20th century, to dream of writing something as concise, beautiful and expressive as one of Wodehouse’s great lines. “Ice formed on the butler’s upper slopes,” to take a passing example. Mr Faulks is a fine stylist. On the face of it, his task is enviable, but in reality as daunting as a hunting aunt in pursuit of its quarry.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Iraqi soldiers trained by the US were routed by IS’s smaller force  

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

Patrick Cockburn
Peter Mandelson first resigned from the cabinet on 23 December 1998  

2015's dim-sum index has too many courses

John Rentoul
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015