Google Glass Addiction: What Did They Know and When Did They Know It

Fame has a fifteen minute half-life, infamy lasts a little longer.

From The Insider written by Eric Roth & Michael Mann, based on The Man Who Knew Too Much by Marie Brenner

The Insider is a very important film about Jeffrey Wigand, a scientist at Brown & Williamson tobacco company, whose whistleblowing formed the basis for the mass tobacco litigation brought by Mike Moore, then Attorney General of the State of Mississippi.  That case resulted in a $246 billion settlement for the participating states, including $4.1 billion for Mississippi.  (Moore is the predecessor of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.)

One of the main themes of the story is that the tobacco companies not only knew tobacco was addictive, but they designed their product to enhance its addictive properties.  Mr. Wigand was forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement as a condition of his employment–which he breached despite significant legal pressure and anonymous threats against him and his family should he blow the whistle.

What becomes obvious from the tobacco case is that when a company puts a consumer product into commerce, the company typically will engage in a degree of testing to make sure the product meets safety standards, assuming there are any.  In the rush to modernity with “wearables”, most prominently Google Glass, we have to wonder whether and to what extent Google conducted tests to determine what affect Glass would have on users.

Particularly addictive effects.

I Asked You For Water, But You Gave Me Gasoline

You may well have wondered about the addictive properties of the Internet generally.  How many times have you seen people repeatedly check their smartphones for email, Facebook posts or likes, Tweets, and so on?  While the phone has other uses, Glass is a delivery system that puts this compulsive checking directly into your brain.  Kind of like a cigarette delivering nicotine directly into your blood stream.

Think that’s far fetched?  Let’s have a look at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the shrink’s bible.  What does DSM-5 say about it?

In the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Internet Gaming Disorder is identified in Section III as a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion in the main book as a formal disorder.

A New Phenomenon

The Internet is now an integral, even inescapable, part of many people’s daily lives; they turn to it to send messages, read news, conduct business, and much more. But recent scientific reports have begun to focus on the preoccupation some people develop with certain aspects of the Internet, particularly online games. The “gamers” play compulsively, to the exclusion of other interests, and their persistent and recurrent online activity results in clinically significant impairment or distress. People with this condition endanger their academic or job functioning because of the amount of time they spend playing. They experience symptoms of withdrawal when pulled away from gaming.

This means that the editorial board of DSM thought there was enough of an issue with Internet Gaming Disorder to warrant including it in DSM-5 with the suggestion that the phenomenon deserved further study with an eye toward including it as a formal disorder.

A closely associated phenomenon is “Internet Addiction Disorder” which is the more generalized version of Internet Gaming Disorder.   “IAD” like “IGD” has not been designated a formal disorder by DSM, but is a subject of interest.

So what does this have to do with Google Glass?

In a search of relevant peer reviewed articles at the National Institutes of Health, I came across this title written by a number of doctors:

Internet addiction disorder and problematic use of Google Glass™ in patient treated at a residential substance abuse treatment program.

The abstract describes the findings:

Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is characterized by the problematic use of online video games, computer use, and mobile handheld devices. While not officially a clinical diagnosis according to the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), individuals with IAD manifest severe emotional, social, and mental dysfunction in multiple areas of daily activities due to their problematic use of technology and the internet.

We report a 31year-old man who exhibited problematic use of Google Glass™. The patient has a history of a mood disorder most consistent with a substance induced hypomania overlaying a depressive disorder, anxiety disorder with characteristics of social phobia and obsessive compulsive disorder, and severe alcohol and tobacco use disorders.

During his residential treatment program at the Navy’s Substance Abuse and Recovery Program (SARP) for alcohol use disorder, it was noted that the patient exhibited significant frustration and irritability related to not being able to use his Google Glass™. The patient exhibited a notable, nearly involuntary movement of the right hand up to his temple area and tapping it with his forefinger. He reported that if he had been prevented from wearing the device while at work, he would become extremely irritable and argumentative.

Over the course of his 35-day residential treatment, the patient noted a reduction in irritability, reduction in motor movements to his temple to turn on the device, and improvements in his short-term memory and clarity of thought processes. He continued to intermittently experience dreams as if looking through the device. To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of IAD involving problematic use of Google Glass™.

What Did Google Know and When Did They Know It?

The study begs the question what did Google know about the potential addictive properties of Google Glass?  Has the company performed any testing of Glass on human subjects?  If they did, what did they find?  And when?

While I haven’t done exhaustive research on the topic, I have yet to find any acknowledgement by Google that the company conducted any human testing of Glass at all.  It seems incomprehensible that Google never tested Glass on humans, so there surely must be some internal testing memos or other correspondence assessing the risks associated with putting a consumer product into contact with humans–particularly Glass, a system that delivers the Internet directly into the brain.

Of course, just like Brown & Williamson, any such testing is no doubt subject to one of Google’s famous nondisclosure agreements–not to mention the threat that Mr. Wigand faced, which is that “you’ll never work in this town again” for one reason or another

The chances that the users of Google Glass will ever find out what these studies demonstrated, should they exist, has a probability in the limit.

But you know who can find out?