GoogleGlass: the social dilemma

Google Glass 1Joe was great: sitting me down, letting me open the box, carefully lifting out my new, orange, Glass and ensuring i was connected to the WiFi. When i first arrived at Glass Basecamp, the half dozen casually dressed staff (Explorers? Helpers?) were sat outside in the sun, relaxed, sporting different coloured frames on their faces, a small corner of San Francisco in central London. The environment was safe, relaxed, friendly. It felt rather like joining a young and particularly good looking club.

At one point, Joe and I stepped outside (for a better 3G signal). A small urchin ran up to us, staring at our faces with his snot encrusted face, “What’s that” he demanded, pointing at the slick white Glass that Joe was sporting. He explained that it was Glass, that it cost a lot of money and that you could buy them in his shop. Sorry, his Basecamp. Youth looked reasonably unimpressed. “Look, i’ve found a skull in a hedge” he declared, brandishing said item to faint looks of horror from the two of us. “What is it?” he asked. “A cat“, i declared. “Or possibly a triceratops“. Best to hedge your options. And that was that.

Apparently the sight of two fully grown men sporting some of the most sophisticated wearable technology in the world warrants around eight seconds of attention, but no more. And it’s certainly trumped by a skull.

Google Glass - Social Dilemma

Half an hour later, after a self conscious walk through the city, i stopped at a cafe. The monosyllabic and somewhat surly girl behind the counter suddenly stared straight at me. I’d unintentionally taken a photo of the cakes (it’s a ‘feature‘ of Glass that you can very easily take accidental photos by touching the frame anywhere). “Is that Google Glass?” she asked. “Yes“, i said, “want to try it“, which she did, asking me a hundred questions on how to use it with Facebook. Girl behind me in the queue then chipped in, asking to have a go. Her australian accent seemed to confuse the device, causing us much amusement as she shouted at it in the cross eyed way i’ve been sporting myself since picking it up. Queuer number three then wanted a go.

GoogleGlass is sociable technology in the most clear cut sense. I appear to be making friends fast.

My next meeting necessitated a ride on London’s antiquated and notoriously crowded Tube. Never a hotbed of goodwill, i was rather reticent about wearing the Glass down there, but i guess you have to be bold sometimes. The close proximity as we stood, rammed in the carriage, being thrown against each other, meant i was particularly aware of the camera on my face being prominent and pointing directly at people. I could feel a lot of people glancing at it (the orange frames not exactly hiding me), although i may have just been more aware of it than usual.

On the escalator on the way out, i heard two separate people comment to their friends “there’s someone wearing Google Glasses“.

Walking into the bar, which, it has to be said was a little pretentious, the doorman asked me “connected to the world are you?“, but we soon got into a chat about it, in a good humoured way, although i could tell they were teasing me.

Somewhat to my surprise, the biggest reaction was on Twitter, with many of my friends there raising comments, questions and concerns around Google, around privacy, around the social acceptability of the camera and so on. In fact, i felt a little as thought i’d stumbled into a bees nest.

This was unexpected: I think my blind excitement at Exploring had led me to consider the technical challenges and practicalities, whilst never once stopping to reflect on whether what i am doing is right, or how others might perceive it. By the end of the day, i felt decidedly self conscious and even took my Glass off when i arrived at my home station, feeling rather exhausted by all the attention.

My expectation of Glass was as a tool to support uninhibited curiosity, a core skill for the Social Age. I was prepared for the conversations it would provoke, both online and in the real world, but i hadn’t expected to have to confront the taboos so immediately and directly.

My expectation was that my challenges would be technical (and believe me, they still are… i still can’t seem to share photos…), but my experience of day one was largely about Social aspects and largely felt intimidating.

My purpose is to use the glasses to explore new ways of curating and sharing: today, i’ve created a video around the process of doing the drawing with the blog (although i don’t seem to have managed to share it yet…). I’m interested in adding layers of context around the formal content. I certainly see it as a tool to support my building of narratives, not being particularly interested in using it for games or to read the news. It’s definitely primarily about sharing for me: both the good and the bad.

As i reflect, my feeling is that this is an interim technology: clearly wearable technology will be dominant soon, and clearly cameras will be part of that. But equally clearly, there needs to be an evolution of social habits and an evolution of the technology.

As i said to someone on Twitter, if Google (or anyone) comes up with a killer application we desperately want to use, the social aspects of acceptance will simply fall into place. We’re not there yet though.

The social issues around cameras and privacy are not caused by Google: they are simply bought to prominence by the prevalence of mobile phones and cameras that silently and simply capture whatever we like. Indeed, in practical terms, the Glass camera is not suited to voyeuristic snapping at the light of the display is clearly visible when it’s active and it’s a widescreen, panoramic view. Mobile phone cameras are far more versatile, but it’s the location of the Glass camera, next to our souls, next to our eyes, that really betrays it. People have no apparent issue with GoPro cameras mounted on cyclists heads and, indeed, GoPro videos make you a social hero when they go viral.

As i’ve said before, we are years away from practical and widespread implementations of Glass or other wearable tech in learning, but we are on that journey. Already i can capture and share. Once that ability is integrated into wider learning journeys, uptake will accelerate.

In the meantime, i’ll continue to narrate my own experiences and see how long it takes before that which stands out becomes simply the norm.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Conformity, Culture, Learning, Learning Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to GoogleGlass: the social dilemma

  1. Pingback: GoogleGlass: the social dilemma @Julianstodd | ...

  2. Nick says:

    Enjoyed this post, looking forward to reading more about your explorations with Glass. Your comment on the girl staring at it in a cross eyed way reminded me of the Optigrab in the move The Jerk. I’m wondering if we’ll see lawsuits in a few years of people left permanently cross eyed 🙂 Of course that’s a joke but I do wonder if it causes severe eye strain if stared at too long, or is that never really the case with Glass because it’s more of a quick look?

  3. Really interested in your explorations Julian and the potential googleglass holds for recording lifewide learning and making sense of experiences.

  4. toby klayman says:

    I definately want to own a pair as I will document what I am doing in my studio. You can have both your hands free! That will be marvelous. Someone I know calls it a “point of view” video. His name is Sandesh and he works at Colombia University in New York City! I was thinking I would wait for the next generation to be issued by Google. …or do you think that has already happened?
    Wonderful reading every one of your Blogs! Best from Toby

  5. Tina Lannin says:

    I’m based in London and have Glass. I use it to stream realtime captions so that I can “read” what people are saying as I’m deaf. It’s amazing technology but does have kinks. I wore on the underground once and was the focus of attention, quite unnerving.

  6. Annemcx says:

    Useful article Julian. This line has a ‘not so fast!’ ring to it: ‘if Google (or anyone) comes up with a killer application we desperately want to use, the social aspects of acceptance will simply fall into place.’

    The big problem, and the ethical problem here is why should social aspects of acceptance fall into place? With technology there’s not enough space in the user experience to test and reject. Gadgets aren’t bought on a sale or return basis, so acceptance dpoes become the daefault but when we’re dealing with issues of free will, is that a good thing?

    in Google Glass’s case, user data is linked to the device and the user is tethered to it up front. If there was a model to try for a month and then move away from the technology because it is too intrusive it would be a different business model, but it’s not, which means the default is adoption.

    As we know, human beings tend to be curious and acquisitive by nature, which means that, for example, it’s far harder to leave Facebook once all your friends contacts and the interactivity of your life is on there, than it is to join it.

    Until technology addresses this as an ethical and governance issue, I have severe doubts about whether it is a force for any good, or a product that’s socially attuned to how users can benefit from it.

    • julianstodd says:

      Thanks for sharing these thoughts Anne (sorry for delay responding, i was on a tech free holiday :-). You’ve made me reflect further on the ethical aspects of technology, and where that responsibility lies.

      Overall, i tend to believe that technology facilitates, but society determines, over time, what it accepts. It’s the same with Glass: i think the current form factor has a limited appeal, but the concept of always connected wearable technology is here to stay… if we can find a meaning and purpose for it…

      Time will tell…

      Thank you for sharing your valuable reflections, best wishes, Julian

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  8. lauraeflores says:

    I feel the apprehension towards Google Glass comes from thinking it takes control of what we share and don’t want to share even more out of our hands, and personally, I think it’s more like the perception of control being taken away versus actual control… as it’s already hard to do that with social media. Technology these days is facilitating the concept of an “open society” and information sharing “without borders” faster than we, the people, can get used to. Well, that’s my two cents 🙂 Fascinating topic!

    • julianstodd says:

      Very true: the technology facilitates new behaviours, but we rely on society catching up and moderating what is and isn’t acceptable. It’s a mistake to blame the technology if we haven’t had the debate yet… thanks for visiting, commenting and being part of our community here 🙂

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