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Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and the Politics of Google Glass

The optics of Orwellian optics aren't optimal.

Newt Gingrich is a man of futurist, science-fictional proclivitiesRemember his campaign dreams of a moon colony, for instance? He is just the sort of man who’d swoon for Google Glass, and so when pictures surfaced this morning of Gingrich wearing Glass, it wasn’t at all surprising. (He’d gotten access to the pair by tweeting in the #ifihadglass competition, and promising that he’d use it to share the view from his zoo trips—another Gingrich obsession.) Gingrich isn’t the only or even the first erstwhile GOP presidential candidate to be spotted in the technology. That honor belongs to Michele Bachmann, who was photographed wearing Glass all the way back in May. The only other major politician of whom I can find Glass-wearing evidence is Democratic Representatve John Dingell, who holds the honor of being the longest-serving congressman ever. The video of Dingell trying the face-computer out and declaring “This is quite a machine!” has the feeling of sideshow barkerism. World’s oldest man tries world’s newest technology! Step right up, folks!

Gingrich, Bachmann, and Dingell all share one thing in common. Politically, they don’t have much to lose at this point, and something to gain from being perceived as forward-looking, in a rather literal sense. For Bachmann, especially, trying out something like Glass might help combat the perception that her worldview hasn’t been updated since 1768. For Dingell, it might help combat the notion that he was born in 1768. (And Newt, to reiterate, just is really really into this stuff.)

It’s interesting, but not surprising, that fewer politicians haven’t seized on that gambit. Sarah Palin, for instance, turned down the chance to wear Glass at a public event. Her husband Todd supposedly asked a reporter from the Verge “What’s in it for us?”  Not a bad question, actually. Google Glass isn’t just out of a science fiction future; for many people, it’s out of an Orwellian one. The news cycle out of Washington, lately, has been an Orwellian one too, thanks to Edward Snowden and co. What politician wants to be caught wearing the Big Brother accessory in the middle of the Big Brother panic?  Even if they’re not posing for a photo-op, the pictures would surely get out: someone’s always watching, after all.