Mobiquity: A Semiotic Analysis of Google Glass
With the introduction of the cellular telephone in 1973 by Martin Cooper (Motorola) and its subsequent evolution into the exponentially expanding realm of information technology, the way people communicate, relate and understand the world around them has drastically changed. Mobile technology has evolved and proliferated significantly over the last forty years to the point where the technology has reached ubiquity – “Mobiquity.”
This evolution experienced a climatic moment on April 4, 2012 when Google publicly presented its Google Glass concept video resulting in wide spread attention and a viral response. The viral video was simultaneously accepted by some with a hopeful embrace, while rejected by others with a fear of societal collapse. Although the debate about what life would be like with this emerging and democratized technology has been intense, all sides agree it is on the immediate horizon and will continue information technology’s propagation into our lives and relationships.
The following is a semiotic analysis of this cultural catalytic event, making semiotic connections with specific emphasis on the effect it will have on the Christian faith and the Church.
The Introduction of New Technology Expressed Through Narrative
Before looking at the specifics of the Google Glass video, it is fascinating to note that Google has chosen to present its new technology concept in the form of a narrative told though a YouTube video rather than a press release, presenter or through a list of bullet points of specifications. This expresses something about how culture is changing regarding how it conceptualizes and understands new ideas and concepts. Google understands the need to weave the exploration of its new product concept through the narrative of someone’s life from morning to evening. Precisely, it is not just a glimpse of life but it narrates an arching story of a young man’s quest to learn and perform a ukulele song for Jessica (we presume to be his girlfriend). Google brilliantly utilizes narrative, showing how the Google Glass technology assists, aids, effects, and alters the protagonist’s experience throughout his quest (Even the slight detour to make a note about buying tickets to the Monsieur Gayno concert is related to the arching narrative as Gayno is shown as a Ukulele artist).
This phenomenon is, in part, what Ricoeur would call a series of “emplotments.” In other words, “…the tendency to make sense of one’s life as a kind of poetic activity.”1 Encapsulated within narrative circle technique, Google is using the narrative to put together little stories (“emplotments”) to create a larger narrative, drawing the audience in and presenting the technology in a way that is, presumably, assisting the protagonist’s life, connecting these smaller narratives together, helping to form meaning and relational connections.2
As the church moves forward, it will have to re-learn what it means and provide opportunities to allow people to fulfill their God-given need to fit their narrative into God’s redemptive metanarrative, helping people find meaning and purpose. As technology futilely seeks to fulfill humanity’s God-given need to be in a larger story, it promises what it cannot deliver, providing the church with a unique opportunity. The church has the opportunity to help people see that their story is part of a greater story (God’s redemptive story) and tell that story better and more effectively to a story-starved world and culture. People are increasingly using mobile technology to narrate their lives, to place their emplotments alongside others and through that process, find identity, meaning and purpose.3 The challenge for the church moving forward is to pose and empower its people to be story-listeners and storytellers.4
1 William A. Dyrness, Poetic Theology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2011), Kindle, Location 1043.
2 There is a form of circle narrative in this video. It begins with a reminder about meeting Jessica at 6:30pm and ends with the encounter, both notified through Google’s technology. Mary Douglas, Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), Kindle.
3 For more on this, see the following post I wrote about my prediction on the future of Facebook’s Timeline.
4 Leonard I. Sweet, Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010).