UNPLUG ME! “The 5 Point and The Museum of Privacy”

I am a digital immigrant who does not, under any circumstances, wish to become a citizen.

I enjoy writing in public places. The atmosphere, the pleasant hum, and the character of a room full of people is usually somehow helpful for me in reaching the state of mind within which I can best concentrate. Half-listening to the sounds around me yesterday, I noticed voices behind me discussing Google Glass. Each of them was marveling over their new gadgets. They were laughing and trading anecdotes about the new discovery, giving tips, showing one another how to make use of the various functions of the devices. Google Glass allows you, through a pair of spectacles, to do all of the things a smartphone can already do: you can search the Internet; you can shop online and read your email; you can use Google Maps or Google Translate to physically or linguistically navigate a foreign city. The one major difference is that a camera built into the glasses and a display in front of the user’s eye allows you to record images and video of your surroundings, enabling users to perform tasks as innocent as photographing friends at a Seahawks game, or videotaping another person from behind at an ATM, stealing a very useful piece of their identity.

“I’ve got this whole room right now, every inch of it—it’s mine!” a smiling woman in her late twenties told the others, the light on the side of her frames flickering as she laughed with them. I tried not to stare and went back to my writing, aware that they could, and probably were, recording the actions of the other people in the room, including me, with their new toy. But I didn’t go there to be videotaped. I simply wanted to drink a cup of coffee and write.

At a museum nearby, the man in line ahead of me happened to be wearing these same glasses. His turn came to buy a ticket, but the sales clerk paused to reach for the telephone instead. The employee, a friend of mine, told me later that she’d spoken with the museum’s security department about whether or not to allow the man into the galleries wearing the glasses. She had given voice to this concern, learning that The 5 Point, a legendary watering hole near the Seattle Center, had become the first establishment in the country to outlaw Google Glass from their premises. The museum where she works is likewise looking into making changes to their own policies for the preservation of the artifacts that they display.

What concerns me about Google Glass is that prolonged use could swiftly and permanently reposition our society into a place in which the very notion of privacy—of not being watched or disturbed in some way by other people—is completely outmoded. Is such a concept feasible? A person coming of age today might grow up without any real perception of privacy or its loss—especially since the temptation to give ourselves over to the absolute pleasures of unlimited scrutiny has been made particularly persuasive by our own desires for the very latest that technology has to offer us. And perhaps I sound now like an intransigent, an old fogey, a stick in the mud, but someday when your every move is monitored you might wish for the good old days.

But wait—isn’t this 2014? The argument against this new invention and the continual, unstoppable growth of technology sounds like it belongs in a museum.

The 5 Point doesn’t think so.

In a statement on their website, the owners of this famous establishment, which has been in business since 1929, said: “If you’re one of the few who are planning on going out and spending your savings on Google Glasses—what will for sure be a new fad for the fanny-pack wearing, never removing your Bluetooth headset wearing crowd—plan on removing them before you enter The 5 Point. The 5 Point is a No Google Glass zone. Respect our customers (sic) privacy as we’d expect them to respect yours.

Like that rare person that you bump carts with at the grocery store, who isn’t somehow plugged in at all times, who doesn’t need to check her cell phone every seventy-one seconds for emails or Facebook status updates, the words of the 5 Point sound, to me, like the voice of reason in a society madly and blindly in love with technology. If only more businesses (and people) openly shared this same attitude, the very humble crusade against the abuse of technology wouldn’t feel like such a losing battle.

(Previously published in Central Circuit magazine–Seattle, WA–Feb. 2014)

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