Google and the eye of the beholder

So, those clever chaps at Google have done it again, perhaps. According to articles in the New York Times and elsewhere, Google are working on the design of augmented reality glasses. Using the Android system, these glasses will deliver all that Google can offer about the view before the wearer’s eyes to a head up display visible on the inside of the lenses. Information on local businesses, historical insights, navigational aids and more could all be delivered direct to the wearer. Of course, the scope for advertising is enormous, and before too long you could be looking out over your favourite view, as sponsored by___________[fill in the blank].

A bit of me is tempted to mock this innovation, and to say how sad it is that we feel reality needs augmenting at all. Google, who will not comment officially on the project, have declared unofficially that the glasses are not designed for continual use, but that some may wear them more than they should! There are all sorts of aspects to this project which make me profoundly uncomfortable – except for one.

The thing is, as a preacher, I have been encouraging people to wear these glasses for decades. I have made it my life’s work to encourage people to look at the world through the lenses of scripture. In Sunday sermons and preacher training I have spent years urging people to observe the world about them through the lenses of scripture. Augmenting reality in this way, assessing what we see through the world view passed onto us by Old and New Testaments we interrogate more, understand more, and ultimately savour more.

Several years running I used to lecture once a year in a Bible College in former Yugoslavia. The students came from all over the region, demonstrating by their shared learning the power of Christian fellowship. Without exception I always learnt more than I taught – although the buzz of being called ‘Professor’ did have a certain appeal! In 1999 I was lecturing on Nehemiah in the last week of term just as the conflict in Kosovo was unfolding. Many of my students were called up immediately on their arrival home.

One of the most precious theological documents in my possession is a letter from a student whose home and city fell under heavy bombardment in the weeks which followed. In it he donned the glasses and interpreted the scene before his eyes in the light of scripture:

Nehemiah, a great servant of God. His personality and acts have impressed me so much and made me see things in another fashion…Out of despair he grew hope and he started building out of nothing…Being enriched with Nehemiah’s experience I stand firmly on the ground with hope and faith in a better future. As soon as I get a chance, I’ll start rebuilding a new country on God’s foundations, because the joy of God is the power of mine!

As you can see, my Serbian friend was wearing the glasses…