Sometimes, your program director presents you with fun gadgets and says, “Here. Figure this out.” That’s how we got our hands (and eyes!) on a set of never-been worn Google Glass. While there have been talks about new Google Glass coming in the near future, for now, Google Glass remains a vestigial relic of the not-too-distant past. Were they not up to consumer standards? Was the world just not ready for smart glasses? We wanted to find out exactly what Google Glass were all about and what would happen when we took the Glass to the street (and the classroom).
Above: The Original Google Glass
Amanda used her phone to set up the glass with minimal difficulty and only one call to customer service. Then she put them on and began playing, quickly learning the basics of Glass manipulation – you can talk, tap, or gesture (wink!) to activate them – before teaching the techniques to Sara.
The most fun feature, by far, is the camera. You can set the Glass to take a picture with a wink. When we introduced other people to our Google Glass, this was the feature they loved, too. It makes taking photos easy, provided the wink calibration is set correctly. (This is very important. It is also important to learn not to tilt your head when you wink; this was more difficult to learn.) Sometimes you could accidentally activate the camera in the course of normal conversation, leading to a few unplanned, and hilarious, photographs of people looking at us perplexedly. (A few of our Glassterpieces can be seen at the end of this post.)
“Did you just take a picture?” we asked each other when we began to recognize the distinctive chime from the Glass’ camera. And then, “Could you take a picture?” of a road sign, an interesting conference slide, a musical performance. Hundreds and hundreds of photos later, we had somehow eaten through a few GB of a data plan just by backing our pictures up to Google Photos. (We learned our lesson: don’t let phone pair with Glass until you’re on wifi.)
The scarcity of the Glass in everyday society made them something of a wonder to people we encountered: “Are those Google Glass?”
People stopped us to ask this question everywhere we went from a street corner near Boston’s Charles Station to a Northampton classroom at the Voices of Change conference, and on almost every bus in between. The moral here? If you like to meet people, become a cyborg.
Before the conference, we discussed the etiquette of always-on wearable recording technology. What about privacy concerns? We talked about wearing buttons that warned people of our wearable, arguing our flair count would reach maximum levels.
We didn’t end up making buttons, and as it turned out, we never needed them. The Glass were obvious. They’re in on your face. On our last day in Boston, we visited the 2015 Design Biennial. As we stood on a sunny street corner, waiting to cross to the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a man asked us, “Are those Google Glass?” Yes. He immediately followed with, “Are you recording right now?” No, we assured him. We’d found there were subtle ways Google Glass let you know it was recording – you could hear the trill of a picture being snapped and, as we told our new friend, “You’d know if we were recording because you can see the screen light up.” The traffic light changed, and we crossed the street to photograph (read: wink at) an art exhibit in the park.
Later that day, we boarded a bus for Boston Logan Airport. Behind us, we heard a father explaining Google Glass to his son and daughter. They had noticed we were wearing Glass. Overhearing their conversation, we turned around and offered to let them try the Glass for themselves, instructing the children to tilt their head upward, a gesture-code to the Glass to activate it and show the time on the screen. The family seemed impressed by the technology, but as we discussed with them, there isn’t a whole lot you can actually do with them.
In the end, Google Glass is fun, but the design and technology wasn’t quite there. They are good for documentation – taking pictures and video – and can send messages to contacts, but only if those contacts contact you first. Additionally, the lack of hinges on the glasses frame makes the Glass cumbersome to carry with you, unless you’re wearing them, but recent reports suggest the next prototype (seen below) will fix this issue.
The Glass’s biggest strength for us was their power to start conversations. Especially at an international conference where we were hoping to network with scholars and practitioners from around the world, the Glass provided us with more ways to begin and engage in conversations with new people.
Is the world ready for smart glasses? Based on our experience, yes, but maybe the original Google Glass wasn’t quite ready for the world. We eagerly await Google’s next move.
Here are a few pictures from our time with Google Glass: