When it comes to wearable technology I’ve always been a fan of Google Glass. I can take or leave the whole smartwatch thing; as I’ve written before somewhere the wristwatch for me became obsolete the moment I got my first PCS phone with network-synchronized time.
But I totally get the concept of anywhere computing—or whatever they call it when the Internet scales seamlessly between multiple screens of different sizes and shapes. And as I’m already quite comfortable wearing glasses, Google Glass seems to me like a perfect fit.
Or so I thought, until I actually saw someone wearing it in public.
It was last Friday night in Greenwich Village, at a local diner popular with NYU students. My girlfriend and I were sharing a slice of pie when this kid and his girlfriend walked in and my jaw almost dropped to the floor.
“Holy crap, that kid’s wearing Google Glass!”
For us poor Canadians, Google Glass is as exotic and foreign as Illinois’ White Castle—or maybe something actually worth pining over, like California’s In-N-Out Burger. Every single time I visit the Google Glass page I’m greeted with some variation of the same message: Nope.
Yet when I actually saw it on a person’s face I realized how incredibly conspicuous it is. Even non-geeks who wouldn’t recognize Glass right off the bat would almost certainly see the camera lens staring back at them. It’s more than a bit invasive.
Witness what happened to self-proclaimed “cyborg” Dr. Steve Mann, a pioneer of computational photography who took his family to a McDonald’s in Paris only to have the staff there rough him up a bit over the very obvious camera on his face. Complicating matters is that Dr. Mann has gone “all-in” on wearable tech:
Subsequently another person within McDonald’s physically assaulted me […] He angrily grabbed my eyeglass, and tried to pull it off my head. The eyeglass is permanently attached and does not come off my skull without special tools.
You can easily make the argument that a McDonald’s is private property, and for whatever reason—corporate espionage?—the employees of that restaurant have a right to decide whether or not their premises can be filmed. In a similar vein, my shocked face in that Greenwich Village diner may well have been captured on this kid’s Google Glass. Am I not entitled to some expectation of privacy as a paying customer of that establishment?
In public spaces it can be a different story. I personally think those Russian dash cams are an ingenious way to keep drivers honest. Ditto for the lapel cameras that police officers in some places are being mandated to wear. Just last Christmas police officers in Hamilton, Ontario were praised for calmly and politely explaining an arrest to onlookers recording the event.
But honestly, what would you do if a stranger wearing Google Glass, the recording light clearly on, walked up to you on the street and started chatting with you? I think my first instinct would be to walk away—that is, if the person wasn’t willing to at least let me try it out…
The more I think about it the more I don’t want to be that guy, the pariah that walks in to a room and makes people cover their face or duck out of the way.
There are obvious scenarios where Glass makes perfect sense—cycling, hiking, jogging… situations where you’re not really interacting with anyone and could use a camera to cover your ass in case of any traffic infractions that aren’t your fault.
But for being out in public and actually interacting with people I don’t know if society is ready for Glass. Casually glancing at your watch seems acceptable still in normal conversation. But the constant distraction of the Internet in front of your left eye, paired with the constant threat of an outward-facing camera? Maybe not.