Google Glass: Not Scary, Worth Discussing

Instantaneous photographs…have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’

Such is our fear of Google Glass, right? Taking pictures everywhere, sharing information with everyone, no more keeping secrets. But the above quote predates Glass by 123 years. Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis penned these words shortly after the Kodak camera arrived.

I tried Glass yesterday, and I give Google one thing: Glass isn’t scary (yet). Users can’t do anything with Google Glass they can’t already do with a smartphone. Google Glass just lets people do some of the same things hands-free. A tap to the device’s right arm activates Glass. A small display appears above the right eye, not in the line of sight. It shows the time and the activation command, “OK Glass.” Speak these magic words and a menu with four options appears: Google, take a picture, look up directions, and record a video. I used the device on a guest account, so I couldn’t send emails/text messages or post information to social networks.

I’m impressed with the technology. Voice recognition could use some work, but a Google staffer said you hear the device not from airwaves entering your ear, but vibrations entering your skull. I wouldn’t buy Glass because I see no need for it. It’s meant to let you live life assured that you won’t miss anything important, but I’ve no need for that much convenience or connection.

Regardless, I hope the paranoia around it continues. Not because Glass is bad, but because seeing a camera on someone else’s face reminds us the default settings of information in society have shifted. This isn’t new (see above quote), but the pace at which technology has advanced means we can do a lot more with the information we collect. How do we as a society feel about that? Google Glass can’t post a running first-person video feed of your life to the Web (yet). But that which we fear already exists. Someone might record video of you and post it online without you realizing. Local governments have set up security cameras in parks. And the police use facial recognition software to mine enormous databases of images. So, let’s keep voicing our concern over recording and sharing photos and videos. Just don’t pretend it’s all Glass’s fault.

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2 comments

  1. krishna

    Good to hear about your experience; thanks for sharing. Interesting to read that there are only 4 actions available with Glass at the moment; the actions seem harmless enough and are already available on smarthphones (as you mention). It’ll be societal norms and conventions that are challenged the most because, as you point out, there are already tons of technologies that exist currently that disrupt privacy and confidentiality.

    • Priya Kumar

      Glad you enjoyed the post. There were a few features (check email or post photos to Facebook) that we couldn’t access since we used Glass on guest accounts, but those are still things anyone can do on a smartphone. What I find interesting is norms will change; it’s a matter of people accepting the change or doing something to make the change more palatable. Remember the furor over cellphone etiquette? Like it or not, it doesn’t seem to be as faux pas to talk on a cellphone in public. But I’m sure some parents still teach children that it’s rude to talk on a cellphone while talking to another person face-to-face. I agree though, I feel like we as a society should have more conversation about what we think norms around tools like Google Glass should be.

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