By Sascha Segan
- May 1, 2013 01:00pm EST
Does anyone who isn’t a white man have Google Glass?
This is starting to get disturbing. Since Google Glass demo units started appearing a few weeks ago, proud Google Glass users have been spewing selfies all over the Internet. And except for the hired help in Google’s demo videos, every single Google Glass owner I’ve heard a word from appears to be a middle-aged white male, usually with some receding hairline action going on there. There’s even a Tumblr devoted to the phenomenon.
This is a big problem.
I say this as a middle-aged white man with extremely little hair. Google Glass is just breaking out of the dream stage, and our society is grappling with these wearable items: what they do, how to use them, and how we shouldn’t use them. People who aren’t white, middle-aged males need to be part of that conversation, but I don’t see that happening right now with Glass.
People from non-Western-European-descended, non-male gender and ethnic groups have different perspectives on technology and society that could help shape Google Glass and how it’s used. Here’s one tiny facet: one of the things Google Glass is about is the idea of gaze, of what we’re looking at and what additional information we want about that thing. This Wikipedia article touches on the philosophical concept of gaze and how it’s gendered.
I imagine that men and women, in the aggregate, may have some different opinions on the use of gaze, what they’re looking at, and how it feels to be looked at. I’m not going to assume all of those opinions are the same. But I’ll go out on a limb and say that the experience of being female in our society is something that shouldn’t be ignored as Google Glass coalesces, and we men should be able to step back and let women speak for themselves. If no women are wearing and developing software for Google Glass, we have a problem.
The same goes with race, of course. And class, but that last one may be an insurmountable barrier at the moment given Glass’s $1,500 price tag and early stage of development.
One of the reasons I so love reporting on mobile technology is that it’s tremendously egalitarian, and it crosses all gender, ethnic, and class lines. My peer group of mobile tech writers is whiter and maler than America as a whole, but it isn’t the complete white-out we’re seeing with Google Glass early adopters. Back when Ziff Davis ran a consumer tech show, Digital Life, I always used to be thrilled by the range of people who came up to my booth to talk the deep nitty-gritty of mobile tech. In my lifestyle I don’t get to talk to a lot of young Latino guys from the Bronx very often, but they’d show up at Digital Life and tell me how mobile tech is changing their lives.
Obviously, Google didn’t set out to be sexist or racist here. Google Glass only went out to developers at I/O, who signed up and volunteered. That’s a self-selecting group. However, if Google doesn’t have any female or non-white developers, it should probably do some outreach. (Yes, female and non-white software developers exist. I even know some.)
Google Glass, and wearables in general can change our society. That includes everyone. Being the vanguard of a major new product category, with so many possible societal ripples, makes Glass more important than a typical game or website whose usage naturally skews to one ethnic or gender group.
If the direction of this societal change is being determined entirely by a socially homogenous group of guys (no matter how hard they try), it’s going to be a less useful technology for that.
For more, see Google Glass: Everything You Need to Know.