Good Morning, Sinners... with Warren Ellis

The Inexorable Rise of the Crapjects

By Warren Ellis

There is a world to come where Google Glasses, equipped with the child technologies descended from Kinect or Leap Motion, exist as a popular game platform. Probably not for long because, in the broad view, no platform is popular for long. Otherwise we’d all still be on Atari consoles. The platform I’m talking about won’t be the Google Glass models we’re hearing about now, nor will it be the Google models of two or three years from now. It’ll be iterations from Chinese factories, ultimately run by people who quickly grew bored with Google’s initial resistance to augmented reality applications on Glass. Those iterations will be handily crippled in other ways, of course. No Glass out of China will allow you to identify, map, and image Chinese “cancer villages,” for instance.

Not least because, naturally, cancer villages occur in unsurprising proximity to big factories. And Google Glass, in its more mature form, could be a handy interrogative technology. Right now, the term “OK, Glass,” combined with a hand motion, activates the thing. “OK, Glass, take a photo,” you'd say. It’s a conceivable few steps from there to, “OK, Glass, tell me what I’m looking at.” Make that more interesting: Give it access to Google Maps and the location data on the public subset of Flickr's eight billion photos, the 300 million photos uploaded to Facebook every day, as well as Google News and Wikipedia.

As a game system, it has much more of a weird promise. Imagine groups of gamers reenacting famous civil disturbances on city streets, in the mode of the computer game RIOT, which will allow you to “play” uprisings in Egypt, New York, Italy, and Greece.

Don’t get any ideas, though. These are, after all, glasses and aren’t going to fare well in real riot conditions. Also, Android devices are full of security holes, and Google will respond to an “anticipatory warrant” from the FBI for your Google Glass data. Did you say, “OK, Glass, video this street clash with the pigs”? Did you tweet through your Glass?

But you see where it’s going. Apps like Curiosity have proven that networked smartphone multiplayer games can work. You can picture giant animated figures jumping across your glasses, emerging from around buildings to menace you on your bored, game-playing walk to work.

These will turn out to be just popular enough to ensure that Google Glass never gets to be useful. Not that they were ever going to be incredibly useful for the general populace, I think, simply because most people choose not to wear glasses when possible. (Personally, I was holding out for the data-enabled contact lens.)

Google Glass, like the Pebble and the mooted Apple iWatch, seems somehow unnecessary—the watchmaking industry’s already been hurt by people who carry smartphones, and now the tech industry seems interested in “disrupting” that space by creating watches that connect to phones via Bluetooth. Watchmakers make fragrances and cufflinks now. You can almost conceive of making glasses and watches as the tech industry’s equivalent of selling a branded fragrance: conceptually kind of frivolous, reassuringly expensive, and easy to smash.

There are people saying that the coming wave of 3D printing will lead to a landfill’s worth of “crapjects”—useless bits of shit we’ve printed out just because we could, without a moment’s thought to their utility or beauty. You may as well complain that children make lumpy unnameable things out of plasticine. If you want a crapject to complain about, look at the personal technology industry of 2013 with internet watches that don’t work unless you have a phone too and their glasses that are unlikely to ever let you get a good look at the real world.

Follow Warren on Twitter: @warrenellis

Image by Marta Parszeniew.

Previously: My Bloody Valentine, Bowie, and the URL of Things to Come

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