It was as if the Singularity wanted to help me with my paper.
I had just submitted an abstract to the Rhetoric department’s conference on Theory/Post-Theory. In 250 words, I suggested that the Greek roots of the English word “theory“, as Plato uses them in Book V of Republic (467b), describe an activity of “safe seeing” of war: a particular kind of training for the children who must grow up to become philosopher kings and queens (a qualified sexual egalitarianism is a notable feature of Socrates’ utopian Kallipolis). Taking the “post” of theory to situate us in a relay, I wanted to think about how to translate the activity of “safe seeing” into the Internet Age.
I hit send. That was February 28.
March 4, I received a standardized email from Google: “So you want to be a Glass Explorer…”
The thing was, I hadn’t requested a pair of Glass.
But my husband had. An activist and innovator, and my collaborator in all things, he has grand plans to hack Glass for the next wave of social movements. “Glass will be to activism in 2014 what Twitter was in 2011”, he predicted. With two pairs, we could do so much more.
I myself was ambivalent about the offer. Not two days before, I had tweeted:
Diagnosis: Digital disassociative disorder. Therapy: metaphysics?
— Chiara Ricciardone (@prometheusphd) March 2, 2014
How would Glass affect my personal metaphysics? My relationship? My sanity?
But we had a handful of bitcoin, and this was before the troubling MTGox debacle. We decided to go for it.
It helped to notice, even before the box arrived, how Google’s “Glass Explorer” program reminded me of the mission of the public Greek theôros: an envoy, supposed to leave his city, observe the festivals and rituals of another, and then report back. (Check out Andrea Nightingale’s excellent and classic 2004 book on the term, Spectacles of Truth.)
— Chiara Ricciardone (@prometheusphd) March 4, 2014
Glass began to feel like a responsibility, something I had to grow up and think seriously about — like “flesh in the game” in which I had till then risked very little. Though I’ve begun to appreciate the strange interactions with strangers that Glass brings, and even its capacity to estrange me from familiar surroundings, I’m still a newcomer on the other side of the Looking Glass. I’m still searching for the theoretical tools and insights that I’ll be able to bring back.
But I have found this. Amidst all the anxiety over how we are seen by Glass (keywords: privacy, celebrity), we haven’t yet thought to ask the question in the active form, the question that we inherit from Plato’s recommended training of the philosopher-kings: how can we see safely, #throughglass?
I’ll be presenting my paper next Friday, April 18, at U.C. Berkeley.