30 Days of Google Glass: Sociology vs. Technology

30 Days of Google Glass: Sociology vs. Technology
First glance upon opening the box!

First glance upon opening the box!

In mid-December, I received an invitation to join the Google Glass Explorer program and purchase a pair of Google Glass. As I hit the one month anniversary of being a Google Glass Explorer, it seems like a good time to reflect on my first 30 days with Glass. It’s worth noting that I have worn Google Glass every day for the last month, not all day, but for some part of every day. I’ve worn them at home, out shopping, in restaurants and bars. I’ve worn them in airports and on airplanes, on trains and even while driving. I’ve worn them to meetings and just around the office. I’ve even worn them while running laps at the track near my house. The last 30 days have proven to be as much a sociology experiment as a technology experiment. Atlanta has a pretty high concentration of Google Glass Explorers due to the presence of Georgia Tech and Thad Starner so I’ve “seen them in the wild” on numerous occasions. In fact, I find it to be a fairly common thing when I go to tech events around town. Even so, they are still a novelty and are by no means commonplace.

My first look in the mirror at my new cyborg self.

My first look in the mirror at my new cyborg self.

Pre-Conceived Notions
What’s become apparent to me over the last 30 days is that nearly everyone I encounter shares the same set of perceptions and assumptions about Google Glass, namely that the screen is feeding me a constant stream of data and information about the world around me, more specifically about them, “Person of Interest” style. The reality couldn’t be further from that. The future may promise such connectivity and access, but today, it’s just not the case. The screen is actually off most of the time. More accurately, it’s only on when I am actively engaging with it and even then, the feed is very limited – and, sadly, none of it is about you. I’m sorry, but you just aren’t that important or interesting. Neither am I, actually.

It does make me wonder what type of information people imagine I’m getting about them. Logically, it would seem that, if anything, the information feed would be akin to LinkedIn and would provide a name, some background on job, title, work history, perhaps shared relations and maybe when we first met. It might even include a Twitter feed or some other social media feed. Somehow, I believe people think it’s feeding salacious information like whether or not you’re cheating on your spouse or involved in insider trading. I exaggerate, of course, but the looks, comments and reactions I receive indicate that my imagination is no less absurd than that of the people looking back at me when I’m wearing Google Glass. Really, it’s just inconceivable to people that Google Glass isn’t delivering a constant stream of information. Why would anyone wear them if they are “asleep” most of the time?

Welcome to the Freak Show
If you are the kind of person who doesn’t like to stand out in a crowd, who is thin-skinned and becomes uncomfortable being pointed at, openly talked about, and even ridiculed, then Google Glass isn’t for you – at least not yet.  For me, perhaps the most interesting social phenomenon about wearing Google Glass is how frequently, people will stare at me, point at me and talk about me right in front of me, without actually talking to me. On at least 20 occasions in the last 30 days, I have had people stare at me and talk about me while standing within 3-5 feet of me. It’s crazy. It’s as if wearing Google Glass somehow makes me deaf and no longer a member of polite society, but rather some object to be scrutinized.

“Hey, that’s that Google thing, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I think so. I’ve never actually seen it in real life. What do you think she’s looking at?”

“Check that out, dude. How cool is that?”

“That’s really obnoxious. Why is she wearing those things?”
“I don’t know, but I agree.”

“Okay, that’s just not cool.” <pointing at me>

“Look! I think she’s wearing Google Glass! That’s the first time I’ve actually seen someone wearing them.”
“I think you’re right. That’s kinda cool.”

The reactions and comments are a mixed bag and span the gamut from awe and wonder to absolute disgust. It’s just fascinating – especially when people find it distasteful and awful. I always listen and take stock of what I’m doing or have been doing to make sure that my behavior hasn’t been the trigger for the reaction. To date, I can’t attribute any of the negative reactions to poor behavior on my part. Apparently, Google Glass can be very polarizing.

When I’m wearing Glass, I try to make it a point to be approachable and friendly. I smile at people. I make eye contact. I say “Hello.” Of the people who notice them at all, only a small, small percentage actually ask me about them – and I always offer to let those that do try them on and see what Glass is about. It’s been interesting to see how excited people get when I offer to let them try Google Glass.

Curtis, a sales associate at Tiffany

Curtis, a sales associate at Tiffany

It’s also been interesting that the people most likely to ask me about them tend to be waiters and waitresses and other customer service-oriented professionals (e.g. people who interact with strangers every day as part of their job.) I was in New York in early January and I wore my Google Glass into Tiffany. The sales people were very interested and engaging. None of them had seen Glass before, although they all knew what it was. They wanted to try them on and they asked a lot of questions. Truthfully, it was a wonderful exchange and experience for me and for them.

Hamming it up for the camera.

Hamming it up for the camera.

As an aside, I’m developing quite a collection of funny photos of myself taken by people wearing my Glass. Taking photos is one of the easiest things to do and people gravitate to that functionality very quickly. So, I’ve started making funny faces when I know someone is experimenting with the camera.

Just the First Step
When I first started wearing Google Glass in public, I was very self-conscious about the looks, the stares and the comments. Sometimes it was hard not to laugh out loud. Sometimes, I regretted wearing them. Within a month, however, I’ve grown so accustomed to it that I just accept it. I still notice it, but I rarely think about it. I acknowledge that wearing them attracts attention – and probably more negative attention than positive attention. That’s fine. I’m an Explorer and a user experience designer. I’m learning new things everyday about what it means to incorporate wearable technology into my everyday life. There is good, bad and ugly – and it’s important for me (and people like me) to experience all of it in order to design better experiences in the future. Google Glass isn’t the future. It’s an important stepping stone, however to a very interesting, augmented and wearable future. It represents tremendous opportunity for highly connected, augmented experiences, but it also proves that technology must integrate meaningfully with society and culture.

I’ll continue to wear Google Glass – and to report on my experiences with them. I’ll be writing about the user experience models and the interactive modalities I experience with them. I’ll also write about the opportunities and the future I envision for Google Glass. Check back soon. This story has just begun.

  • mrsmartyp

    Thanks for the nice writeup. I was debating on picking them up myself when they open them up for sale tomorrow, but it’s a bit hard to justify.. hrm.