In 2014, I was paired with my very own Google Glass, which I wore daily for almost a year. In this blog I consider my experience of wearing and working for Google Glass using the language of affect, and nod to the ontological questions that my experience brought to the fore.
If affect “marks a body’s belonging to a world of encounters” (Seigworth and Gregg), then to understand the body we must understand its relationship with the surrounding world.
Glass altered what I saw, heard, felt, and touched, by attempting to create a personal augmented reality. It instigated a rupture in my seemingly constant sensory experiences. By attempting to change my everyday sensory experience, Glass heightened my awareness of how I perceived the world with and without the smart technology.
I chose a white pair of Google Glass with a rectangular frame. During a week’s training in Google’s Mountain View I learnt to pair the technology with my mobile phone, saw first-hand where Glass had been developed and heard from individuals engineering their Glass vision.
Discourse on wearable technology often presents the material in idealised form, as an almost magical technological object, which can both collect data and use the data intuitively to improve the individual.
While working for Google, I contributed to this narrative, portraying Glass as a tool capable of enhancing human capabilities. Officially, I spoke of a seamless interconnection between my body and Glass; my capabilities could be deconstructed and reassembled for self-improvement. As an advocate for Glass, I demonstrated speaking other languages without studying, finding my way without consulting maps, and capturing memories at (literally) the blink of an eyelid.
Unofficially, I struggled to pair Glass with my personal phone. I felt its overheating unpredictably and uncontrollably press against my face, administered countless “power downs” in the hope of magically repairing my glitch-ridden device, and shouted “OK Glass, send a message” with a despairingly low success rate.
The disparity between the official and unofficial use of Glass emphasised for me that Google Glass was not the seamless experience portrayed by much wearable technology discourse.
My so-called ‘augmented experience’ was ridden with pauses, breakdowns, overheated devices, bugs and glitches. Due to my limited proficiency with technology and the brokenness of the infrastructure, Google Glass did not become a fully augmented experience. As a result, it never entered into my category of mundane objects or became a backdrop. I was reminded of its presence through its glitches, and the subsequent attention these required to fix.
While existential questions of Cartesian mind-body dualism, private-public questions of data and implications for intimacy-anonymity, abound, they are not relevant to my personal encounter with wearable technology. I want to add an additional symbol in my ‘chaine operatoire’ – that of the glitch, punctuating my daily experiences and intensifying my awareness of the technology at play.
Thus in order to understand changing affect as a result of augmented experiences, I learnt the importance of considering the specifies of the material object itself, not its representation, constructed portrayal, or potential it offers – but what it actually does in everyday life. For now, wider ontological debates will have to wait.
Massumi, B (2002) ‘Concrete is as Concrete Doesn’t’ from Parables for the Virtual, Movement, Affect and Sensation, Durham: Duke University Press
Massumi, B (2009) ‘The future birth of the affective fact. The Political Ontology of Fear’ Chapter 2 in Gregg, M and Seigworth, G The Affect Theory Reader. Durham: Duke University Press
Fluckiger, B (2008): Visuel Effects. Filmbilder aus dem Computer: Marburg: Schueren