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USC professor Robert Hernandez

Meet The USC Journalism Professor Leading A Course On Google Glass

"It's the most mature wearable platform that's out there," says USC journalism professor Robert Hernandez. "And we need to be proactive and figure it out."

University of Southern California journalism professor Robert Hernandez says he is not a Glass fanboy.

"Whenever I put on Glass, I'm essentially opting in to answering a lot of questions," he says. At the moment, it's too clunky and obtrusive--journalists are supposed to blend into the background, listening and observing.

And yet as storytellers, we ignore the possibilities that a technology like Glass offers at our own peril. "I'm not drinking the Google Kool-Aid," Hernandez insists. "But it's the most mature wearable platform that's out there. And we need to be proactive and figure it out."

This fall, Hernandez will facilitate a class at USC's Annenberg School For Communication & Journalism that will focus on developing Glass-centric software for journalists. It won't be a traditional lecture, per se. Rather, the curriculum's goal is to build a collaborative environment where developers, Glass Explorers, and journalists can attempt to answer questions, like: How will omniscient technology like Glass disrupt what we conventionally consider journalism? What will an article created on the floating monocle's hardware look like? What are its limitations? And what kinds of unique narrative experiences can we create, truly? At the end of the course, if all goes as planned, those applications will be built and, ideally, used.

While we've seen Glass emerge as a hands-free communications tool in other industries, such as firefighting and medicine, many newsrooms still consider Google's face-mounted smartphone an exotic accoutrement. The technology is still too foreign and weird looking to most observers.

Hernandez understands this. On Twitter, he goes by the handle @webjournalist, where he has over 12,000 followers, many of whom are--for lack of better words--journalism nerds. As a news veteran who was at the intersection of journalism and technology for about 15 years before moving into academia, Hernandez says he has seen his share of exciting new technologies emerge--like VR 360 panorama photographs in the early 2000s--only to disappear one day, unexplored and untapped. Although he would frequently suggest ideas to his newsroom higher-ups, most would elicit a lukewarm reaction at best. "I would pitch ideas, they would reject my ideas, and then the New York Times would do it a year or two later," he recalls.

Glass is a bit different. It's buzzy. And, more importantly, Google has already poured a lot of time and effort into it to let Glass go away quietly. Right now, we're at a critical juncture in terms of Glass's storytelling capabilities. Other than the media experimentation of, say, Vice reporter Tim Pool, who used a hacked version of Glass to broadcast live on-the-ground footage from Cairo, we're just beginning to understand what such immersive, ever-present technology is truly capable of. In the not-so-distant future, Glass will physically disappear from the foreground of our faces, augmenting our digital experiences as a quiet pair of spectacles or contact lenses. The Explorer version we see today is basically "the Zack Morris phone," jokes Hernandez.

And when that happens, what will make Glass exciting will be its ability to generate first-person perspectives that the ordinary observer might not be privy to, whether that entails getting selected for the NBA draft, meeting the president of the United States, or helping dudes lacking in social graces get laid.

But while Glass's potential for content production is exciting, it is the news consumption aspect that Hernandez says he is even more interested in. "What is the Snow Fall for Google Glass?" he asks, referring to the New York Times's elaborately packaged feature story, the DNA of which has been widely imitated. "What are the most tricked-out kinds of storytelling? What is the publishing platform for Glass? Maybe [with this class] we create a CMS."

The fact that Hernandez asks more questions than he answers isn't lost on him. That's part of his process. And the quote-unquote "Glass Journalism Class," which begins this fall, will be no different: Much of the on-paper curriculum was developed by USC students who are currently Glass Explorers themselves, and the rest will be figured out on the go. It all begs the somewhat obvious question that I couldn't resist asking: Will Glass truly become an indispensable part of our digitally tethered future? Will ordinary people, not technology nerds, really take to it?

Right now, at least, that may not even matter. Adds Hernandez: "I love that I don't know what the answer is."

[Photo by Brett Van Ort]

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