Google Glass is showing up in disguise with increasing frequency on TV dramas. The high-tech specs’ most recent dramatic role was actually a psyche out of sorts on BBC’s Sherlock Holmes. The viewer is guided to believe a manipulative media magnate accesses information projected inside his glasses to size up people’s’ weaknesses. The episode ultimately becomes a lesson in the ancient Greek mnemonic technique known as the mind palace.
The mind palace was invented by an ancient Greek poet named Simonides of Ceos and is a system whereby information is stored in the mind through association with a particular location. A wealthy nobleman hired the poet to compose a victory ode to be performed at a banquet. During the feast, Simonides was called out of the house to meet with two young men. While he was outside, the building collapsed behind him. When the roof caved in many people died, and their remains were unrecognizable. However, Simonides was able to identify them by recalling who was sitting where at the table. The trick is to visualize a complex place where information is stored. In the Sherlock Holmes episode the antagonist is repeatedly shown combing the shelves of his personal library, i.e., his memory palace, looking through books and photo albums containing personal details of the other characters.
Though mnemonics are used in computer programming, and the mind palace serves as a fascinating technology metaphor, recent appearances on TV by Google Glass facsimiles are less about mind palaces and more about sales. Nancie Tear, Director of Client Services for PropStar Placements, Inc., explained that seeing new electronic gadgets repeatedly placed and used in TV shows is a short cut for explaining to consumers what a product does. “Multiple exposures means consumers will catch on that much quicker.”
Product placement advertising, which has long been commonplace in American television, has only been allowed in Great Britain since 2011. In a Channel 4 educational video, Associate Professor Michelle R. Nelson of the University of Illinois stated that product placements are persuasive because people “don’t put on their this-is-an-ad hat. They’re less likely to counter argue or to question or to be skeptical.”
Google’s promotions for the product often feature Glass’ video recording capabilities, as demonstrated by the tech wizard character Nolan Ross (played by Gabriel Mann) in the nighttime soap opera, Revenge. Ross loans his Google-ish glasses to someone as a way of getting her to unwittingly record her smartphone password for his own later use.
“It’s not a surprise,” says Tear, “to see Google Glass integrated into TV and film projects, since the product is so revolutionary. The film industry tends to seek out and use the newest and coolest brands.” The New York City Police Department announced last week it had obtained a few pairs of Google Glasses. Perhaps an appearance on Elementary, CBS’ State-Side Sherlock Holmes set in the Big Apple, will soon follow.
The wearable tech even contains a voice activated foreign language translation function. No doubt some future episode of USA’s Covert Affairs will feature polyglot TV spy Annie Walker (played by Piper Perabo) in disguise behind a pair of Google Glass eye shades, secretly translating for her some exotic language.
By Melissa Roddy