The Google Glass feature no one talks about
Interesting post by Mark Hurst pointed out by The Wife:
Google Glass might change your life, but not in the way you think. There’s something else Google Glass makes possible that no one – no one – has talked about yet, and so today I’m writing this blog post to describe it.
To read the raving accounts of tech journalists who Google commissioned for demos, you’d think Glass was something between a jetpack and a magic wand: something so cool, so sleek, so irresistible that it must inevitably replace that fading, pitifully out-of-date device called the smartphone.
Sergey Brin himself said as much yesterday, observing that it is “emasculating” to use a smartphone, “rubbing this featureless piece of glass.” His solution to that piece of glass, of course, is called Glass. And his solution to that emasculation is – well, as VentureBeat put it, “Sergey Brin calls smartphones ‘emasculating’ – but dorky Google Glass [is] A-OK.”
Like every other shiny innovation these days, Google Glass will live or die solely on the experience it creates for people. The immediate, most visible problem in the Glass experience is how dorky the user looks while wearing it. No one wants to be the only person in the bar dressed like a cyborg from a 1992 virtual-reality movie. It’s embarrassing. Early adopters will abandon Google Glass if they don’t sense the social approval they seek while wearing it.
Google seems to have calculated this already and recently announced a partnership with Warby Parker, known for its designer glasses favored by the all-important younger demographic. (My own proposal, posted the day before, jokingly suggested that Google look into monocles.)
Except for the awkward physical design, the experience of using Google Glass has won high praise from reviewers. Seeing your bitstreams floating in the air in front of you, it would seem, is an ecstatic experience. Weather! Directions! Social network requests! Email overload! All floating in front of you, never out of your sight! For people who delight in a deluge of digital distractions, this is much more exciting than a smartphone, which forces you back to the boring offline world, every so often, when you put the phone away. Glass promises never to do that. In fact, in a feat of considerable chutzpah, Google is attempting to pitch Glass as an antidote to distraction, since users don’t have to look down at a phone. Right, because now the distractions are all conveniently placed directly into your eyeball! (For a more accurate exploration of Glass-enabled distraction, see this darkly comic parody video. Even edgier is this parody – warning, some spicy language.)
As if all that wasn’t enough, Google Glass comes with yet another, even more important feature: lifebits, the ability to record video of the people, places, and events around you, at all times. Veteran readers will remember that I predicted this six years ago in my book Bit Literacy. From Chapter 13:
The life bitstream will raise new and important issues. Should it be socially acceptable, for example, to record a private conversation with a friend? How will anyone be sure they’re not being recorded, in public or private? … Corporations, police, even friends with ‘life recorders’ will capture the actions and utterances of everyone in sight, whether they like it or not.
Today, finally, that future has arrived: a major company offering the ability to record your life, store it, and share it – all with a simple voice command.
And this is where our story takes a turn, toward a ramification that dwarfs every other issue raised so far on Google Glass. Yes, the glasses look dorky – Google will fix that. And sure, Glass forces users to be permanently plugged-in to Google’s digital world – that’s hardly a concern for the company or, for that matter, most users out there. No. The real issue raised by Google Glass, which will either cause the project to fail or create certain outcomes you may not want (which I’ll describe), has to do with the lifebits. Once again, it’s an issue of experience.
The Google Glass feature that (almost) no one is talking about is the experience – not of the user, but of everyone other than the user. A tweet by David Yee introduces it well:
There is a kid wearing Google Glasses at this restaurant which, until just now, used to be my favorite spot.
The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them. I’ll give an easy example. . .