The good, the bad, and the ugly–the endless possibilities of Google Glass

My initial reaction when I read about Google Glass a few months ago was that it was the next step towards a Skynet Terminator apocalypse –and, more realistically, a tool for the government to turn the US into an Orwellian 1984 society in the name of national security. I actually didn’t really give it much more thought until I listened to this NPR article.

I can understand the pre-emptive backlash against the product (though seriously it hasn’t even been released to the public yet) and the concerns about privacy. Caesar’s Palace hotel and casino in Las Vegas has restricted the use of Google Glass (counting cards anyone?) and one of my Seattle favorites The 5 Point is noted here as being one of the first to ban the glasses from an establishment.  (I seriously doubt anyone looking like this guy would be hanging out at The 5 Point anyway but I digress…)  As the author notes in the article the ban, made originally in jest, is an extension of the bar’s existing policy prohibiting photos and filming in the bar without consent.

Which brings up an important, if slightly chilling, point of discussion. Lack of privacy and the growing importance of social media is an important issue in our country: “What happens in Vegas stays on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Flikr.” At my job we warn our students not to post anything  online that they wouldn’t want their future employer to see. From indiscretions to interviews, however you frame it, once something is on the internet it is there forever, floating in the ether, impossible to retrieve. No amount of un-tagging, non-participation, or increased privacy settings can change this fact.

And Google Glass is changing the rules. There was once a time when you took a photo and had to load it on to a computer, then post it to the internet. Then came the smartphone and the ability to upload a photo with the tap of a finger.  Now a photo can be taken in the blink of an eye–without the subject even realizing what is happening.

This removes the ability to “opt out” which is critical to our sense of privacy. As tech analyst Sarah Rotman Epps astutely points out here, Google Glass “will require shifting social norms to be accepted.”

And yet it’s not difficult for me to imagine the possibilities in the not-too-distant future. With our legal system struggling to keep up with cases involving cyber-bullying and the responsible parties in GPS related auto crashes, this giant social and technological leap forward presents numerous challenges to our society. How long before police officers are issued Google Glass or a similar product and are able to retrieve relevant information about a person in question by simply looking at their face? In twenty years will we even need police line-ups to identify suspects, or will we merely play back footage captured from witnesses’ points of view?  Our right to remain silent will mean much less because our faces will speak volumes.

On the flip side, Google has touted the positive innovation its product allows, from virtual field trips captured using its video function,  to using an app to identifying allergens in food by scanning a barcode.

When I heard the NPR article that sparked this post, my mind jumped to the medical possibilities. This product could remind a person with Dementia or Alzheimer’s who the people are around them. An app could guide them home if they leave the house and become lost.

Personally, I’d love one of these for networking purposes–how amazing  to be able to cross-reference your LinkedIn network with the faces in the crowd at a conference and have their information appear before your eyes. Along with challenging how we view our privacy, this technology has the potential to revolutionize how we communicate with one another and how we function as a society.

The possibilities, the good and the bad, are truly endless, and there’s money to be made in from innovation in response to this product (beyond the expansion of our lexicon).

Stay tuned for a post on Kickstarter to finance my new gadget: it clips to your head and thwarts Google Glass facial recognition!


Taxes, student loans, & the Segal Americorps Education Award

Tax season is in full swing and today I decided to have my taxes prepared.

(For folks in the Seattle area, United Way of King County has an awesome free tax preparation program that I’ve used the last two years.)

The unpleasant realization that I owe money to the government brings up a related (in my mind at least) topic: the Segal Americorps Education Award.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, each person who completes an Americorps program receives this monetary award which can be used to further one’s education or pay back student loans.

I participated in an awesome Americorps program called Public Allies back in 2010/2011. I learned A LOT and had a really fantastic experience overall, but the year was definitely challenging. There’s a reason that Americorps is described as a year of service (and why members are referred to as volunteers): I worked well over full time while earning barely enough to get by. I was happy to do so and still believe that the experience I gained and the people I served made my time worthwhile–and the Ed Award was certainly a great benefit to completing the program.

Like many others, I completed my Bachelor’s degree prior to joining Americorps and planned to use my award to pay back student loans. As it turns out, only “qualified” loans are eligible to be paid back with the Ed Award. For me that meant I could only use the funds to pay on my federal loans–which make up only about 30% of my loans–the rest are ineligible private student loans.

I shrugged off my disappointment (that’s what I get for not reading the fine print) and went through the online disbursement process each month to have $275 of my $700 in monthly  payments covered by my award.

It wasn’t until the end of 2011 when I received a 1099-MISC documenting a little over $2,000 in miscellaneous income from Americorps that I began to do some further research.

According to the Americorps website the Ed Award, “unlike most other forms of scholarships and fellowships, is subject to federal tax in the year the payment is made. It is considered taxable income regardless of whether it’s used for current educational expenses or to repay a qualified student loan.”

So, in short, an Americorps member dedicates a year of their life as a volunteer. As a benefit of their service they receive a monetary award to invest in their (past or future) education. There are strict guidelines on how this award can be spent and it is considered taxable income, even when it’s disbursed according to the award guidelines.

In my mind the tax obligations would make more sense if the award was a cash pay-out with no restrictions–truly just income.

These guidelines seems particularly irrational since the maximum amount set for the Ed Award each year  is based on the maximum value of federal Pell Grants which are NOT considered taxable income if used on qualified educational expenses.

In my personal situation this all amounts to my being granted money to pay student loans; then finding out I can only use the money (which I received from the federal government) to pay back loans I took out from the federal government; and, finally, finding out I have to pay federal taxes on the money I was given from the federal government to pay back loans I owe to the federal government.

…and suddenly I’m a character in a Monty Python sketch.

This “miscellaneous income” also put me just over my expected tax obligation–making me owe money rather than receive my much-anticipated tax refund.

At a time when half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, and student loan forgiveness is a hot topic as a tool for economic stimulus, removing the income tax obligation from the Segal Americorps Education Award seems like a small, logical change.

Until then, though, the IRS can expect my check for $124 prior to April 15th.