‘First’ Arrest Filmed with Google Glass Isn’t a Game-Changer

...unless you're easily impressed.

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My OUYA review unit is stuck in an “update failed” loop, unable to proceed (and unwilling to let me past the gate until it downloads what it hasn’t been able to for hours), which makes for only slightly less interesting reading than this story at Venturebeat about someone filming an apparent arrest and scuffle — a “first,” claims the YouTube poster — while wearing Google Glass.

“Tonight, I was testing out the extended video recording option with Google Glass on the Boardwalk of Wildwood, New Jersey,” writes Google Glass citizen-watcher Chris Barrett. “I walked right into the tail end of a fight happening on Jersey Shore boardwalk and filmed the first arrest through the lens of my Google Glass.”

And then: “This video is proof that Google Glass will change citizen journalism forever.”

Barrett, if you click on the link he provides beneath the video, seems to be the founder of PRserve, which bills itself as “PR for startups,” listing clientele like Hootsuite, Treehouse and Pixable. Could his video be some sort of weird PR stunt? Who knows (I wouldn’t put anything past most in PR these days) but it doesn’t matter. I want to talk about Barrett’s claim that Glass “will change citizen journalism forever.”

Let’s review: Google Glass includes a 5-megapixel, 720p video camera that sits beside its translucent optical display you glance up at to view information, resting just above your eyes, roughly at eyebrow level. You’ve probably heard the stories about people using Glass to surreptitiously film others, quietly initiating Glass’s camera with a blink, which is only partly true: Someone designed an app that lets you “wink” to secretly snap a picture, bypassing Glass’s camera controls, but Glass’s native interface requires obvious interaction, including tapping a side-mounted touch panel and giving voice command approval to initiate a snap. Not that that’s any reassurance: If Google doesn’t somehow lock its camera down, we can probably expect an arsenal of on-the-sly camera-enabling third-party apps down the road (assuming Glass goes anywhere as a product, of course).

Barrett’s video may seem a little boring next to TV news’s usual ambulance chase: There’s some shouting (barely audible over the crowd-noise), someone yells “They’re boxing! They’re boxing”, someone else drags a person away (unclear if involved in the fight), then Barrett’s Glass captures someone apparently fleeing the scene, pursued by a policeman. (Barrett also ironically films others filming the incident on their smartphones.) The rest of the video is Barrett trying to figure out what’s going on, twisting left and right, until the anticlimactic finale: police handcuffing the alleged perp against an outdoor knickknack store wall.

The point seems to be that Glass makes incidents like these film-able in ways prior technology didn’t, and if we hadn’t been seeing these kinds of videos (with far more disturbing content) appearing daily for years without Glass, I might agree. Citizen journalism had its mobile “spring” long ago. Glass isn’t all that different from someone dropping a filming smartphone or hidden cam pen or whatever mobile gizmo from a stable of thousands in their front shirt pocket or up their shirt sleeve and walking around wherever. We keep calling Glass “wearable,” but that term can mean so many things, and it can apply to devices that have been with us for years.

Don’t get enamored with the phrase “hiding in plain sight,” either. When I bumped into someone wearing Glass for the first time at Ford’s recent Go Further conference, though I didn’t assume the person was filming me (I’m sure they cared not a whit about me, in fact), I was hyper-aware that I could be filmed — the presence of Glass in the room changes the dynamic, or at least it did for me, based on the conversation we’ve been having about its impact on privacy. Would others act differently if they were aware of someone nearby wearing Glass? They seem to mostly ignore Barrett in his video, but then so do people in videos shot with the sort of inconspicuous cameras found in mobile devices like smartphones, whether worn on the face or carried by hand.

Barrett is wrong when he declares Glass will change citizen journalism forever, too enthralled by the hyperbole to see the technology for what it is: another rung on an interminable ladder — another incremental step. If it captures the public’s imagination, it’ll be notable for having increased the number of devices gobbling up visual information; if it doesn’t, it’ll be another footnote on the road to toward truly clandestine surveillance.

And what might the latter look like? Bionic camera-eyes indiscernible from actual eyes? That might change citizen journalism (among other things) in the way Barrett means. But we’re much too impressed with ourselves and our technology if we think Google Glass is by itself doing something radically different as far as citizen journalism is concerned.