Google needs to aim for social acceptance with GlassEvan Selleck - Contributing Editor
2013 has the chance to be the year of wearable technology. Bluetooth-connected devices aren’t new by any means, but we’re seeing a much bigger focus on those types of devices this year, mostly because we’re moving them away from the ear. Devices like the Pebble smartwatch, for example. Or, closer to the face, Google’s Glass. We aren’t getting rid of the smartphone by any means, but it’s pretty clear that we’re expanding our desires in the user experience while out and about.
Much like anything else, technology has to be accepted by the populace before it can ever have a chance at succeeding. When someone sees your new gadget out in the wild, the initial reaction can be anything just as long as the lasting experience is noteworthy in a positive way. If people like what they see, and get a chance to use, then they’ll pass that word along to others, and that’s just one more way a device can see sales and adoption.
We seem to be excited for Google’s Glass. The augmented reality accessory, which will fit on our faces much like a pair of glasses, seems to pique the interest of plenty of people. I’ll admit that the idea is great. The ability to take a quick snapshot, get mapping directions, or grab a quick video right from a pair of glasses is a cool idea. Want to find out when something was built? Google Glass can help you with that. It’s a natural extension of your phone, which Google will obviously hope is an Android-based device.
When I’ve written about Glass in the past, the anticipation is obvious. We’re barely into 2013 but we’re all eagerly awaiting the end of the year, when Google expects to release Glass to the public. We don’t have to wait years to get the new experience, like many people thought it would take. We’re closer than ever before to having a device that really does revolutionize the way we use technology while we’re out of the house.
Our smartphone will play an integral role in our day-to-day life, that’s obviously not going anywhere, but Glass is new and different. That’s something we need, drastically. It’s refreshing, to say the least. The only downfall is that we have to wait. Waiting is hard.
What might be harder is the public’s overall acceptance of Glass, though.
It’s interesting to write that, after having painted a pretty clear picture that I believe a lot of people are looking forward to the launch, and the device itself. I’m not necessarily worried about Glass’s acceptance, so to speak, but I do think it potentially has a rocky road ahead of it after launch. Just look at the road leading up to the launch. It hasn’t been all that smooth, and the device isn’t even available yet.
Let’s start with the first bump. On July 17, 2012, news broke that a man named Steve Mann had been assaulted at a McDonald’s chain restaurant while on vacation in Paris. Mann was wearing what’s known as the EyeTap eyepiece. The EyeTap is a device that looks like a hard prototype of Google’s Glass. It would, because that’s more or less what it is. Mann is considered the father of wearable computing. He was the lead at MIT’s Wearable Computers group, and has been exploring for several decades mediated reality technologies.
The main difference between EyeTap and Glass? The EyeTap is permanently attached to Mann’s skull, and it doesn’t come off unless removed by special tools. This is one reason why Mann had medical documentation on hand explaining the EyeTap and its presence on his head.
In that initial report, McDonald’s employees were said to have assaulted Mann because of the equipment. They reportedly attempted to forcibly remove the EyeTap from Mann’s head, which obviously did not work. Since then, the story went back and forth, where denials were issued and more images of the event were released.
Now, more recently, we’ve got the first public ban of Google’s Glass, courtesy of a bar in the heart of Seattle, Washington. The bar is known as 5 Point Café and it all started with a Facebook status update:
“For the record, the 5 Point is the first Seattle business to ban in advance Google Glasses. And [butt] kickings will be encouraged for violators.”
In a more recent status update, posted two hours before the time of this writing, the 5 Point Café suggested you shouldn’t “buy into Google’s ‘sexy’ imaging promotion.” They go on to say that Glass will simply be a “new fashion accessory for the fanny pack & never removed Bluetooth headset wearing set.”
The owner of the 5 Point Café, Dave Meinert, went on KIRO Radio, a local broadcast, to talk about the decision to ban Google Glass. He points out, in what many might suggest is a legitimate argument, that his bar is sometimes seedy, or even notorious, and that the patrons may not want to be unknowingly recorded, and that video subsequently uploaded to the Internet for everyone to see.
Essentially, Meinert’s argument is one for privacy, even if the Facebook posts have more than a pinch of obvious sarcasm.
Is it a publicity stunt? Could be. They do go out of their way to point out that they are the first (!) business to ban Google Glass even before it launches. But the truth of the matter is, I don’t think many people are eager to mess around with privacy, especially when we’ve got cameras littered all over the place. It may not be hard to take a photo from your phone, especially with a camera hardware key right there on your phone, but it’s even easier with Google Glass. And no one would be the wiser, too.
This is why I’m wondering about Glass’s social acceptance. The wearable accessory from Google really is a step into the science fiction of technology, and the Mountain View-based company is more than ready to shove it into our lives, hoping for the best. If we’re looking at the real world reactions from people, how can we not be a little disheartened?
Maybe because these are isolated events. We know that some Google employees walk around out in the wild with Glass on their face, and from what I can tell none of them have been assaulted at public restaurants.
The argument for privacy is a clear one, and one that many people are willing to vehemently argue in favor for. Despite the sarcastic comments on Facebook, I think Meinert’s position isn’t wrong. He’s aware of his establishment’s patrons, and he doesn’t want to alienate them. So be it.
Will we see this same reaction from owners of other bars, or restaurants, or movie theaters? Is Google Glass going to see the wide adoption that Google obviously wants from it? Or will we see more business ban the device from inside their walls? Do you think Glass should be banned from certain locations? Or will business just have to accept its role in our society, moving forward? (Whatever that may be.) Let me know what you think.