Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Google, don't be secretive

By Douglas Rushkoff
updated 6:06 PM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
Tech journalist Robert Scoble posted a photo of himself wearing Google Glass in the shower to show that the set is waterproof. The photo became popular on the Internet and was featured in a Tumblr blog called <a href='http://whitemenwearinggoogleglass.tumblr.com/' target='_blank'>White Men Wearing Google Glass</a>. Click through the gallery to see more people who are sporting the electronic eyewear. If you think you can out-cool these guys, <a href='http://ireport.cnn.com/topics/212164'>share a photo of yourself wearing them</a> on CNN iReport or tag your Instagram photos <a href='http://statigr.am/viewer.php#/tag/cnnireport/' target='_blank'>#cnnireport</a>. Tech journalist Robert Scoble posted a photo of himself wearing Google Glass in the shower to show that the set is waterproof. The photo became popular on the Internet and was featured in a Tumblr blog called White Men Wearing Google Glass. Click through the gallery to see more people who are sporting the electronic eyewear. If you think you can out-cool these guys, share a photo of yourself wearing them on CNN iReport or tag your Instagram photos #cnnireport.
HIDE CAPTION
Can you look cool wearing Google Glass?
Can you look cool wearing Google Glass?
Can you look cool wearing Google Glass?
Can you look cool wearing Google Glass?
Can you look cool wearing Google Glass?
Can you look cool wearing Google Glass?
Can you look cool wearing Google Glass?
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Comedian at White House Correspondents' Dinner makes fun of Google Glass
  • Douglas Rushkoff: Are we in the midst of a new kind of tech industry backlash?
  • He says young tech companies that were once upstarts are now getting pushback
  • Rushkoff: Google, Facebook should be more transparent about their intentions

Editor's note: Douglas Rushkoff writes a regular column for CNN.com. He is a media theorist, the author of the book "Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now" and correspondent on a PBS Frontline documentary "Generation Like." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- At this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner -- the annual opportunity for the President to engage directly, and humorously, with reporters who cover him -- it was expected that most of the jibes would be aimed at Barack Obama. Sure, he gets the chance to defend himself, but it's pretty much a roast: A leading comedian is invited every year to make jokes, while the commander in chief tries to laugh instead of squirm.

Maybe that's why I was so jolted when this year's headliner, comedian Joel McHale of TV's "The Soup," took such a hard swipe at Google. "America still has amazing technological innovations. Google Glass has hit the markets. Now, just by walking down the street, we'll know exactly who to punch in the face."

It got a pretty good laugh -- perhaps because both the press and the politicians in the room were relieved to have been spared for at least one joke. But the violence of the imagery, and the intensity of the rage that it expressed, gave me serious pause: Are we in the midst of a new kind of tech industry backlash? And is it for something these companies are actually doing, or have they simply lost control of the technology story?

Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

This is more than the traditional sort of commentary and critique of a new form of culture that we've seen waged against everything from television advertising or fashion iconography in the past.

When the artists called Like4Real rebel against the ubiquity of the Facebook "Like" by holding a funeral for the thumbs-up symbol, it comments effectively, if acerbically, on the changing nature of social relationships in a commercial space. Meanwhile, artists from KillYourPhone.com are encouraging people to make special pouches for cell phones and PDAs, which prevent them from receiving signals. Again -- agree with them or not about the need for an occasional digital detox -- it's clever, provocative and memorable satire.

But the notion, even expressed jokingly, of punching people in the face for wearing Google Glass -- as if the device somehow signals a traitor to the cause of humanity -- pushes things over the top. Yes, we can all imagine how people wearing an augmented reality device might be annoying: They can surf the Web while pretending to converse with us or, worse, record us when we don't know it. No sooner had the very first prototypes been spotted last year than TechCrunch reported a new, purely apprehensive moniker for its wearers: Glassholes. But it's as if the public is now being primed to go after early adopters -- almost to a point where one might be reluctant to put on the device.

Bars banning Google Glass
Correspondents' dinner in 2 minutes
Laughs at correspondents' dinner
Morgan Spurlock explores Google Glass

Are technology companies such as Google shouldering the blame for too much? It seems as if they are bearing responsibility not only for people's fears about the future of technology but the excesses of corporate capitalism.

Consider the hullabaloo now centered on the buses that convey Google employees from San Francisco to Silicon Valley. This winter, protesters waylaid one of the Google shuttles, going so far as to hurl a brick through one of its windows in protest of what they see as the tech giant's gentrifying influence on the city. When San Francisco introduced the new Muni 83X bus line, locals were quick to point out that its sparsely utilized buses run suspiciously close to Twitter headquarters. More protests, and more vitriol ensued.

Of course, in reality, Google's buses spare the highway a whole lot of traffic, and the atmosphere from countless tons of carbon emissions from what would otherwise be an extra few thousand cars on the highways every day. And suspicions about local government adding commuter lines to accommodate Twitter appear to be unfounded.

The deeper angst in San Francisco appears to be over the way each new tech initial public offering creates another few thousand millionaires who want to buy apartments, jacking up the real estate prices for everyone else. But even this local economics issue seems unlikely to be motivating such widespread disdain for tech business. Besides, there are a number of corporations with much worse records of displacing locals or hurting business than the new tech giants.

No, I think the reason these young corporations are getting so much pushback is that they were once seen as the upstarts -- as the companies on the people's side of things. Digital technology was supposed to disrupt business as usual, create new opportunities for both self-expression and small business, and -- perhaps most of all -- change the very nature of the corporation and its relationship to real people and places. They're being held to a higher standard than companies of previous generations.

Now that these little garage businesses are some of the biggest companies in the world, it's a whole lot harder for them to exhibit the qualities that once made them the darlings of the culture and counterculture alike. Yes, digital companies are being held to a higher standard than companies of previous generations. But this is largely because we all understand that they are building the infrastructure in which our economics, culture and perhaps even a whole lot of human consciousness will take place.

That's why they have to pay more attention to communicating their intentions than might otherwise seem justified. Steve Jobs was famous for keeping great secrets, but Apple is largely a consumer electronics firm. We like being surprised about the features on our next phone.

A company such as Google can't be as secretive when it purchases a military robotics firm. Without clear messaging about the reasons for such acquisitions, the public mind reels, particularly in the wake of National Security Agency disclosures, jobs lost to automation and movies from "Her" to "Transcendence."

Instead of balking at our widespread suspicions, the leaders of Silicon Valley must begin communicating honestly and effectively about what they hope and dream for. If people are scared of Google's Glass, of Facebook's purchase of a virtual reality company or of Twitter's use of big data, then it's up to those companies to explain loud and clear how these developments will serve us all.

For once, protecting strategy secrets has to take a back seat to clear communications. If these companies really are building the world we're all going to be living in, they have to let us in on their plans. Otherwise, we're going to feel like we've been left off the bus.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT