Londoners Rarely Give Glass a Glance

Are they wary, weary or just not wowed?

Much as in New York, it is hard to shock Londoners, with their globe-in-your-face diversity, punks in pink and piercings on the Tube. It's safe to say that Londoners have acclimated to "shocking" appearances.

"Maybe you're just not going to the right places," someone critiqued helpfully. "I tried Harrods but the shoppers ignored Glass," I responded. "Only the employees wanted demos there." Following a friends advice, the next day I headed to Shoreditch, an area in East London blossoming with street art, cafes and fashion.

Walking in and out of pop up shops, I casually engaged with store owners and customers, who admired and complimented Glass but no reaction amounted to the same wow-factor experienced in Spain. Such a change from continental Europe...

"There's a rumor going around that there is a girl at the party with Glass. You must be her," someone told me at Silicon Christmas, a holiday tech party. Funny, I thought, because I was beginning to think no one gave a sh*t. There was never any shock, any awe. Were the people whispering the rumor conveying interest in Glass or just being wary? Another social event would clarify...

I'm hanging out in my former boss's friend's living room with four of her friends. As soon as they notice me wearing Glass, one person asks sharply, "Are you recording us?" "No," I said. But even so, Glass shattered the party's vibe, abruptly curving the conversation toward privacy. Glass intrudes here in London, but I still did not understand why.

Did you know that there are an estimated 5 million security cameras in Britain, one for every 11 people and 500K of them in inner London alone? (1) The British live with more surveillance per capita than any other people in the world. London is so saturated with cameras and roadblocks in its effort to thwart terrorist attacks that its security inner zone is called the "Ring of Steel," an approach imitated by Manhattan. (2)

Cameras, cameras, cameras everywhere and capturing every movement. No wonder Londoners are weary and wary of yet another layer of surveillance! This time it's seemingly masterminded by the U.S. (and the National Security Agency in particular) but "democratized" by gaggles of Google Glass foot soldiers streaming data live from inside and outside "private" spaces. Vigilance? Vigilantes? "Where does a person today have any respite from Big Brother?" I can imagine the conscience thoughts of Londoners as glance away from Glass.

I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Big Data and Privacy, so I feel that I am sensitive to Londoners' distaste for Glass. This blog, however, is: Sophia Through Glass, and for good reason, it is not the reverse. I must say that until now, I've been looking through Glass at the world more than truly perceiving what others see about Glass. As I return the gaze to myself, I hear the voices here in London: "Is that recording?" "No, it's not," I say. But I'm still recording it all in my mind, and that's a key take-away from London.