Did Kipling prophesy the Google Glass? Yes, but perhaps a hundred others did it too. Ideas are cheap at any time, and vague gestures towards faint possibilities in the far future erupt in any idling intellect like daisies after spring rain. Nevertheless, he gets credit for this well-aimed shot of 1885:
"Ever used a telephone?" said Le Diable Boiteux airily. "Sometimes" I answered; the telephone in my office being the bane of my daily life. "That's all right" said the Le Diable Boiteux. "You will see when you put them on, that this pair of glasses is to the eye exactly what the telephone is to the ear. One hundred and fourteen years hence similar instruments will be invented by your kind, when you shall have brought electro-magnetism to a higher pitch of perfection."
("My Christmas Caller, or the Prescription of Sieur Asmodeus", Civil and Military Gazette (25 Dec. 1885), in Thomas Pinney, ed., Kipling's India: Uncollected Sketches 1884-88 (Macmillan: London, 1986), 128.)
The glasses are voice and mind controlled and "will work as fast as you can think", the devil explains, thus allowing the user to rapidly investigate any subject or view and listen to though not speak with acquaintances and relations. However, the outcome is not quite what the human user expects or would wish for, and here perhaps is Kipling's most interesting prediction:
"I tested their powers exhaustively [...] They enabled me to see and hear as quickly as I could think, and also to understand that Hastings Macaulay Elphinstone Smallbones had disappeared from the thoughts of all the great family of Smallbones as well as from the minds of his friends. [...] I was penetrated with a deep sense of my personal insignificance – a wholesome but unpleasant experience which some men go through life and miss." (129)
Wholesome it may be, but also dangerously disturbing; and while this story ends happily with Hastings waking from his dream and rushing out to a Christmas party, the seed of doubt is sown in the reader's mind. However, as Kipling realised, without the Devil's glasses his contemporaries were relatively safe because they knew so little and could only with exertion know a little more. In the vale of unknowing self-respect flourishes, being a shade loving plant. Before information began to flow in such quantities and with such ease did anyone really and for more than a moment believe and understand themselves to be ignorant, friendless and insignificant? I suspect not; they had little enough reason to do so. For us the situation is more difficult; knowledge chases us round every corner and into the blind alleys where we chose to hide. No wonder that we have developed electronic social networking alongside universal and almost instant data; it is a necessary analgesic, a useful fiction, a trompe l'oeil to people with smiling faces the gaping void.