What Will It Really Be Like To Live In A Google Glass World?

From the moment Sergey Brin wandered past the author at this year's TED conference, the author was smitten. But what will Glass truly change about our lives? One thought: everything.

From the moment that Sergey Brin wandered by me in the lobby at TED this year, I found myself in love.

Not with him, of course, but with his glasses. They were so sexy, so exciting, with a tip of the hat to past eyewear—but a magical glimpse of the future as well.

So many things went through my mind. The first time I plugged in an early version of Steve Jobs's remarkable Apple IIe, I had that same burst of adrenaline that only a glimpse of the future can bring. And again, when I was forced to retire my trusty Palm Treo for the sparkling new iPhone 1. Adrenaline.

Already, the pundits are out in force. Some of the Glass fan boys are ready to declare it a massive hit. Others are just as quickly proclaiming its inevitable failure. Whichever side you are on, it's quickly become one of the central conversations in the tech community. Google Glass is the "it" product of 2013, and it's still in closed beta.

But fans and critics both get it all wrong.

We've seen a glimpse of the future, and it's about far more than a single device or a trendy piece of hardware.

Google Glass is hardly the question. Sure, it's a device. But the truth lurking behind Google Glass isn't a debate about whether it will succeed or fail. Google has had tough luck so far with hardware, as both Google TV and Google Nexus 1 were big bets that didn't quite meet up to the promise. But Google Glass is different. Because, if you look at the challenges and problems we face in our daily lives today, it's abundantly clear that we're moving rapidly toward A World Made of Glass, and the devices will hardly matter.

What does it mean to live in a World Made of Glass?

Glass is both transparent and fragile. That represents both the opportunity and the challenge of data moving seamlessly from our lives into the shared and public world.

Already we've crossed the line into a world of complete connectivity. We transmit our location with our cellular phones, we check in at various meals, museums, movies, and social events. We're still pushing the buttons to allow that information to be distributed, but the shift to automatic check-ins and live feeds of our public information is right around the corner.

A transparent world—a glass world—is a world without privacy. But the trade-off seems appealing, maybe even necessary, as the volume of information is coming at us without new filters, we're all being crushed by unfiltered information overload.

So what drives us into this World Made of Glass, and why does it matter?

Connected computing is here. Fitbit, the Jawbone Up, and the Nike FuelBand make the quantified self movement real and important. Will we trade privacy for health? For sure. Next around the corner is the connected web, and while Google Glass is out front, we're already hearing reports that Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and others are exploring wearable devices. Glass may be the first, but it won't be the last.

Now that always-on, wearable computing has arrived, what's about to change? Simply put, everything.

Government on Glass:

Progressive leaders have been pushing for our democratic institutions to share the one thing that they create that matters—information. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been driving openness though the BigApps competition, giving developers access to real-time information about city services, institutions, and trends. But the disappointing outcome in this initiative is the way the data is presented. Apps, it turns out, are really only useful on a phone or an iPad that is connected to the web in real time, and those devices require you to stare down, disconnecting from the world around you. Glass changes all that instantly. Data about subways and buses is now visible when you look at them. Streets are alive with data. Dangerous intersections can inform you about previous pedestrian deaths. The bike-sharing program makes sense when you can ask your wearable device where to find one, or where to return one, as you peddle down 5th Avenue.

Sports and Entertainment on Glass:
For as long as anyone can remember, we've been on the verge of "interactive TV." But wearable computing makes all those ideas real. The current second screen environment, where people watch a program or event on TV and hold their tablet in their hand, will quickly be replaced by a second screen that is literally overlaid via Google Glass. Television shows will seamlessly invite voting, participating, and take cues from how the audience glances across the screen. You can already see the bones of participatory-audience TV in place. But that's just the beginning. As people enter a sports arena or concert venue, the idea that large portions of the audience will be broadcasting video will create complex issues for intellectual property rights. Can a movie theater ban Google Glass? What about the NBA or the Rolling Stones? How about casinos? Card counting is now as easy as turning on an app. Yet casinos want you to tell your friends you're at their resort, and having a good time. The double-edge sword of embracing social marketing and trying to limit free transmission won't end without a fight.

Privacy on Glass:
Until now, the lines between public and private were clear. But the arrival of always-on wearable computing clearly creates a whole new set of unanswered accusations. And while it's easy to simply say "consumers can turn it off," the real-world examples are far more complex. Face recognition is going to be very helpful in a large room with lots of vaguely familiar faces. Trade shows, social events, gatherings. No longer will you say—"where do I know that person from?"

But at the same time, the gaze of Google Glass may record the products you look at, the music you listen to, the food you eat, the brands you're attracted to. There's no simple on/off switch for the transparency that the Glass world provides.

We've arrived. The man/machine connection that has been on the horizon is now coming into view. And the current state of information overload that is overwhelming us all will have a new and more effective filter. But the trade-offs are real, and they aren't without consequences. Information isn't going to slow down, and the volume of data and content that is created will grow exponentially as more devices that gather images, video, check-ins, and votes come online.

The solution to information overload isn't narrowing the stream, it's improving the context and relevance of information. Rather than having to hand search though listings and databases, wearable computing should be able to give users the ability to get information they need, when they need it, where they are standing. But before you race off and trade in privacy for information relevance, keep this in mind: Without careful thinking and new rules and social behaviors, your every whim and glance could be recorded—and stored—forever.

A World Made of Glass will allow us to see like never before, just as long as we handle this new power with care and respect the fragility of the new world we've created.

[Image: Flickr user Jenny Hudson]

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  • Moreface

    I hear there is already people referring to those who wear Google Glass as 'glassholes'. This may be because those who wear them won't really be aware of anything going on around them and will expect everyone else to heed them (and their 'Glasses') rather than the other way around.  At minimum, Google may want to re-think its nomenclature to try and avoid such unfortunate counter culture branding. However, that likely won't stop this technology from continuing the trend started by social media that the more we connect via technology the less we are  connected (to each other). 

  • uhanepono

    You will comply. Resistance is futile. ... Meanwhile on anther planet .... it could be a great 007 thing if they could design it to look like eyewear. How about corporate espionage or whistle blowing or legal he-said-she-said? If I could turn it off. Wait for the implant and then talk about expectation of privacy. Then you will comply. 

  • TehGoldenRule

    And this is your Scoble in the shower moment : "A transparent world--a glass world--is a world without privacy". 

  • TehGoldenRule

    And I like these things but you tools are letting your tool use you instead of the other way around. You fall back on the line "no one has an expectation of privacy in public" instead of building privacy into them such as non-hackable hardware based video-on LED indicator or OPT-IN only facial recognition. These things would let you guys play your game, because that is what it is, and the rest of us can stay out of it--maybe occasionally using something like Glass for an actual job like fixing something with the schematic of the thing we're fixing on its heads-up display or being able to speak to someone who speaks a different language or that is deaf. I can also go to the store to buy meat but why wouldn't I also want to learn to actually hunt? If I knew someone who was deaf why wouldn't I also want to learn actual sign language?

    You want to raise a generation of kids who never learn to type and instead talk to their computers so that they can type for them, and for their computers to read to them also.

  • TehGoldenRule

    You are using your technology wrong if you have information overload. Why are you letting your technology use you instead of you using it? What you describe is a machine that tells you what to do and when to do it. Who really wants that? This is the most ridiculous article I have read about Glass yet. You anti-privacy freaks are nothing but of bunch of wanna-be celebrities with a fetish for telling all about your lives, even listing your real information online such as email address and home phone numbers--then brag about how you never read posts addressed to you because you have too many followers, and then you complain about the filters. The f i n g filters. Give me a break. The most un-cool thing in the world is a person who tells all about themselves, upfront, because nothing is left to mystery, and thus you ARE NOT INTERESTING. You are a dork with cyborg glasses in a shower letting the world see you like that. These are simple things. You guys don't even understand people who want to use pseudonyms yet great authors have used them for thousands of years, and for good reason. Your favorite line is "if you aren't doing anything illegal then what do you care about privacy for". And the spooks and advertisers, which seem to be one-in-the-same as far as their goals for your personal information are concerned, are thinking, this jerk thinks we only care about what is illegal, but we know more about him and his family and his politics that even his wife does. What kind of world is that? And who are you to say that your political beliefs or personal interests won't one day be grounds for "special attention" and maybe a visit from the secret police. But oh no you didn't do anything illegal, except the thought police had other ideas on that. History repeats itself again and again until a free people frees themselves. You guys don't even understand the individual, nor care, nor even understand that since representative democratic republics have been in existent that the people rule themselves, and have safeguards put in place in order to secure that, such as privacy, such as the right to be armed, such as free speech, and such as the right for ones home and possessions to be private and secure.

    Next you will want to water the crops with Gatorade because it has electrolytes and proudly proclaim that you live in an idiocracy where you wouldn't even know how to read if it weren't for your cyborg glasses, and that is fine and dandy because you can also check into some stupid building and be the f i n g mayor. And if the power goes out you wouldn't have the slightest clue what to do with yourself.


  • Delaware_jack

    We have met the enemy .. and he is  ...... Google Glass  ..." A transparent world--a glass world--is a world without privacy " ..