Can Glassholes find safety in numbers?
You're about to see a lot more Glassholes walking around.
Google today announced that it has no more Glass headsets to offer consumers after allowing the general public to purchase the controversial face-based computer for just 24 hours. The company previously allowed select buyers to sign up for its Explorer program, which provides access to the headsets for $1,500 -- more than the device is expected to cost when it launches.
Though Google didn't say how many headsets it made available, it will be interesting to see how people react to seeing more Glass owners. The device has thus far been met with a mix of ambivalence and outright hostility. A Business Insider reporter had his headset stolen and then broken in San Francisco earlier this week. It has been banned from bars, hospitals, strip clubs, and casinos. The future might be here, but no-one's happy about it.
Then again, perhaps having more people walking around with these Internet-enabled headsets will remove some of the stigma from wearing a camera-equipped, voice-activated computer on your brow.
Reactions from around the Web
ZDNet points out that we don't yet know how many people actually purchased a headset:
Wired's Mat Honan wrote about his one-year experience with Glass:
From an update the Glass team gave on Tuesday, it appears that the 'cotton white' edition did actually sell out during the sale. However, there was no word on how the other shades of Glass, which include sky, charcoal, shale, and tangerine, fared. Google hasn't said how many Glass sets were available during the sale in total, so it's difficult to say how much of a success the one-day event really was.
Would-be Explorers would have had to sign up yesterday by paying $1,500 plus tax for a Glass device, which has until now have only been available through invitation or winning a competition: for example, 8,000 people were able to get Glass via the #ifihadglass competition last year.
Susie Cagle wrote about her experience with Glass for The Nib, and explained that it's not actually that great at spying on people:
Even in less intimate situations, Glass is socially awkward. Again and again, I made people very uncomfortable. That made me very uncomfortable.
People get angry at Glass. They get angry at you for wearing Glass. They talk about you openly. It inspires the most aggressive of passive aggression. Bill Wasik refers apologetically to the Bluedouche principle. But nobody apologizes in real life. They just call you an asshole.
Wearing Glass separates you. It sets you apart from everyone else. It says you not only had $1,500 to plunk down to be part of the “explorer” program, but that Google deemed you special enough to warrant inclusion (not everyone who wanted Glass got it; you had to be selected). Glass is a class divide on your face.
Since the National Security Administration’s digital dealings became public last spring by way of Edward Snowden’s leaks, it’s become harder to delineate what our expectation of privacy can be in 2014 America, bill of rights or not.
But for all the anxiety about its use as a covert surveillance tool, Glass is not actually very good at that. Snapping pictures is simple and extremely discreet, but when recording a video, the prism illuminates. Any number of other, cheaper cameras would make for a better mode of secret filming.
Still, on its surface, the gadget perpetuates a dynamic that looks like a privileged class — both private citizens and corporations as well as secretive government forces — purchasing the tools to surveil those without means.
MIT Technology Review, erm, reviewed the device earlier this year:
Pando weighs in
Google Glass shares much of its electronics and software with the smartphone, but it’s a very different machine.You hold a smartphone in your hand. And we do—at restaurants, at the movies, walking across the street, and even in bed. We use smartphones to check our mail, update Facebook, get driving directions, search the Internet to settle bets, and, sometimes, even to make calls. But Glass you wear on your face, and that fundamentally transforms all these human-computer interactions, making them more intimate. Because you don’t use your hands, and because it projects an image onto a transparent screen suspended in front of your eye and uses a vibration to stimulate your inner ear, using Glass is like being naked with the machine: synapses and wires united.
I argued in 2013 that Glass signaled the beginning of a more human Google:
These individuals, who are tasked with telling Google how they would use Glass in a new, creative way, are given equal footing with developers, the people Google normally caters to. These are the people who might not know a single Java command or what an “API” is but understand how people work and what they might wish to do with “face-based computing,” as Quartz’s Christopher Mims put it.
Designers. Creative individuals. A breakthrough technology that promises to change the way we interact with our devices. Just a few months ago those words would have never been applied to Google, but that’s starting to change. From the technologies it is developing that will benefit the everyman as much as or more than the prototypical “geek” — think self-driving cars, Glass, Google Now, and others — to the services that millions of people use every day, Google is finally reaching users on a basic, human level. Carmel DeAmicis wrote about Glass' utility in education:
Even with just the documentation functionalities, Glass has potential in education because it gives unprecedented observation, instruction, and documentation benefits to both teachers and students.
It helps increase empathy, by allowing students to put themselves in each other’s ‘shoes’ so to speak by watching videos they’ve recorded while wearing Glass.
It allows teachers to notice more about their classroom environment after the fact through the recordings. And it allows classes to ‘travel’ to places they otherwise might not by hanging out with someone wearing Glass. David Holmes had the pleasure of covering an app made for two love-making Glass owners:
The lights are low and smooth R&B fills the room as you stare into the eyes of your lover. What’s your first move? Do you go in for the kiss? Gently run your fingers through your partner’s hair? Or do you excuse yourself to grab a pair of cyber-goggles so you can capture and quantify your lovemaking?
If you answered cyber-goggles, then these British developers have an app for you: Sex With Glass.
Built at a wearable tech hackathon in London, Sex With Glass lets two humping Glass-wearers view their sexual trysts in real-time from either partner’s perspective. You can also set up an iPhone across the room to capture a third perspective, switching between views using the Glass swipe gesture. It’s basically like bringing a creepy mirror-covered bedroom with you wherever you go. James Robinson wrote about Google's efforts to humanize Glass earlier this year:
It is all very surface level stuff – no extreme sports with Google Glass, it is not a suitable screen to read War and Peace on.
For a Glass-wearer (which I am not) it might express useful insights. Who knows, maybe people are tuckering themselves out reading Infinite Jest on it and risking the device rock climbing.
Nevertheless, there’s a true lack of self-awareness that glosses over the friction between privacy and people walking round with concealed cameras over their eyes. All the glib talk in the world won’t fix that problem.
Then he wondered about its plans for its hardware business:
What Google’s endgame is for its new toys, only it can really say. But, its partnership with Luxottica— which makes Ray Bans and Oakley sunglasses — to make the actual glasses that Google’s tech will be adapted into suggests that these are again platform moves.[image via wikipedia]
Historically, Google cares more about setting itself up so its operating system and services mediate your everyday experience than it does about selling you the toys that do it. This is a company, after all, that makes almost its entire living selling ads.
As Glass hits the buying public, temporarily tomorrow but in the future likely for good, and its new technology leaks out behind it, it is a good reminder that it is not the thing itself that matters, but the information the company gains from you using it.