Google Glass: The most personal piece of tech you may never own

Google Glass: The most personal piece of tech you may never own

Summary: Some gadgets you can use as though they were your own, like tablets and televisions. But Google Glass, the new kid on the wearable technology block, extends the nature of "personal tech" to a whole new level — even more so than your trusty smartphone sidekick.

TOPICS: Google
Google Glass. Will it ever hit the mainstream? (Image: Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive)

I'll start with an admission: my adventure with Google Glass started with simply sheer, unremarkable curiosity

On a cold fall Sunday morning in New York's lower west side, I walked into the world-famous Chelsea Market and made a beeline for an easy-to-miss elevator up to the eighth floor. I was there to collect about $1,600-worth of gadgetry that I knew may never make the light of day in its current incarnation.

For the past few weeks, I have bridged man and machine with Google's latest creation. This wearable technology isn't new, and it isn't exactly original in its design or concept: we've seen it in science fiction for years. But the burgeoning sensation of "what's next" led me to dig deep into my wallet to own something in this brand new and disruptive category of gadgetry.

Inside the glass prism

Unlike a regular set of glasses, Google Glass' micro-display resting above your line of sight takes prime focus. For regular eyeglass wearers, a new pair may feel intrusive and obvious at first but over time feels natural and a part of you.

Wearing Glass is an entirely different feeling. It takes time for Glass to become a natural and logical extension of what you see and how you interact with the physical world in front of you."

Though it's not often someone on the street of Manhattan makes eye contact with you, it's nevertheless an excruciatingly awkward feeling knowing full well you have an unfamiliar and new device on your head. With Glass, I was enveloped with shyness and coyness, and my confidence rapidly melted away.

It was at almost every public-facing moment (and even with the comfort of our own nerdy newsroom) I was always looking in and thinking how silly I looked. But unlike a regular pair of glasses that become a part of you, the exo-perspective of how one looks to others, which many rarely consider, never goes away.

There was a silver lining: Glass quickly begins to negate other behaviors that one, and almost every other smartphone owner in the Western world, suffers almost incessantly.

How many times in a day do you pull out your smartphone to check if you have any messages? A dozen or two — maybe even three? Probably significantly more in fact.

In moments when you're bored, or waiting for someone, to avoid an awkward moment, or to consciously check-in or send your status — it's almost subliminal.

With Glass, it's always there. You're conscious of it at all times. It doesn't slip away or blend in, and it's obscurely addictive. Not only is it always at your beck and call, it's quite literally always on — in your eyesight, in the front of your mind, and physically always pressing gently against your temples where it rests on your head.

The content 'cocoon'

There are two physical sides to Glass: the prism display you see and how others view you. Unlike a smartphone that can be looked on by others, Glass cocoons you in a virtual reality of your own content and communication.

While you're encouraged by the device to speak to it as though it's your head-mounted personal assistant, you aren't forced to "OK Glass" every command. The eyeglass is navigable by tapping and swiping the motion sensor in the device's arm.

There are times when you cannot and must talk to Glass — dictating emails or text messages are the most common example. But one concern never goes away: the personal privacy factor. In spite of the content cocoon you're enclosed in, it isn't watertight because your messages can be audibly heard by others.

The bone-conducting speaker that reads back your messages directly into your head tingles your temple with a subtle but noticeable vibration isn't loud or intrusive — yet it lacks luster in volume, making it difficult to hear callers or read-aloud text above a rabble in a room.

From the outside in, I am just a man on the street talking to himself. It still takes a lot for others looking at Glass wearers to grasp exactly what this device can do. If the device were any smaller or more discreet, any distrust of its capabilities would only deepen.

An extension of your smartphone, it knows (nearly) everything

One of the few things Glass doesn't seem to know is your name. But it knows the more personal things in your life, such as what time you're flying out in the morning back to London for the holiday season.

Glass piggybacks off your Android smartphone or iPhone's data connection when you're out and about, but it has the capability to hop on Wi-Fi networks independently. Regardless of where it gets its connectivity, it gets every shred of data and more through its tethered Google account access. It knows flight times from your email messages, the weather at your location, where's good to eat nearby, and more.

It's not just a logical extension of your smartphone. It is de facto your smartphone.

A smartphone has almost every shred of your data but it rarely sparks a user's surprise. You knowingly put your email, your social networks, and your contacts and other information on your phone. But it often sits in your pocket or rests in your hand when you're actively interacting with it.

I don't remember telling Glass when my flights are, but somewhere along the lines — in e-mail or on a social network — I did, and it knows. We often forget how much information that we store on our smartphones, and Glass is no different.

In fact, Glass has deep Google Now integration that throws up "cards" when it may help. On the morning I wrote this, I knew I had my flight, but like magic it appears with terminal information and live departure status. I walked around the terminal and, behold, a place to grab a coffee and somewhere to buy a slice of cake. It's not beyond the realms of just walking around and killing time, but a week with Glass makes a smartphone feel somewhat archaic.

The fact that this wearable technology sits within plain sight makes interfacing with it feel closer and more interactive. By that, the reality that your data is visual, it's always there, and it's available as and when you want it.

It's an unprecedented visual insight into how much data you actually have stored in the cloud (and what can be done with it) by a company whose product doesn't even know your name — even if you know its. That's a little disconcerting, if not borderline scary in the post-surveillance disclosures world.

There's a reason why eyeglass tech hasn't taken off yet

You've probably seen these wearable glasses before in "Star Wars", or "Star Trek", or something similar.

In fact, "Terminator" is probably a far more realistic example of what Glass is. (Except without the death and the killer robots.)

Put something — or anything — on your face where people can see it and they will stare, even if they've seen it before. It's difficult not to look, frankly, particularly if we're genuinely intrigued and show interest into what something is. It's a learning process, and education cures ignorance.

But we're just not there yet. As smartphones slowly became the norm, so did the privacy situation surrounding plug-in and embedded cameras in devices all shapes and sizes. It took a while for society to adjust — though that process was significantly accelerated when we overcame our concerns and realized we could share our cat photos with the world. Particularly in the Western world, we got there in the end.

Because Glass is so far removed from what we see as natural, society will have a great deal of work to do before we can ethically and culturally overcome this barrier that we are already to some extent part-man, part-machine; the fact we are vastly complemented by technology already notwithstanding.

It's not to say it won't happen. But it will take a long time until we as humans feel safe enough to go outside our collective societal comfort zone.

This is the first article in a five-part series on Google Glass.

Topic: Google

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Over the top for me

    Two devices I see as over the top in tech. One is the smart watch and the other is Google Glasses.
    I just don't see any real need and yet I can certainly see tech fanatics embracing such devices. I simply don't want to feel myself drowning in tech.
    • Glasses are the perfect gift fo those that like to be lead around

      The thing that many of the testers here have not really touched on is that these glasses are constantly giving you "Google filtered" data the entire time, suggesting to you the whole time what they think might be of interest to you.

      Very subliminal yet right there in the open - you just don't see that you do react to it.
      At what point are you reacting to your choice or decision as opposed to what "the cool glasses thing" suggest?

      I'm really not sure how a device designed to make people followers is a good thing, when we should be working at making things to make people leaders for the future.
      • common ground (and privacy concerns for my patrons)

        I wouldn't wear if made by Apple, Microsoft, Google or Facebook.
        I would permit open carry firearms before I would ever allow this kind of garbage technology in any business of mine!
        • Better yet....

          AIM FOR THE RED DOT !!!!
        • an odd perspective indeed

          So you would allow lethal weapons that could easily kill someone over a piece of experimental technology that can't cause harm? Seriously? Patrons of a business can take photos, and certainly video, with phones and tablets without anyone being the wiser. (Note the vast number of revealing videos on YouTube.) If anything, were someone to use Glass to take video, the blinking light would make it obvious. Besides, Glass is primarily a device for the individual's interface with technology they ALREADY use.

          Privacy issues? Let's get real. There is no privacy out in the world. There are cameras everywhere. Been to an ATM? Driven a car around the city? Walked down a city street? Oh... how about your business-- any security cameras in there?
          • information

            Information is the most dangerous weapon. Silently collecting human profiles and laying ground work for the most frightening human manipulation and control that has ever existed. There has never been a weapon more frightening than information.
        • Open Carry of Firearms

          Why don't you allow them now? Don't you believe in the Second Amendment? Or do you live in a Commie state such as New York?
        • Welcome to the 21st century

          Your "privacy" has been non-existent for oh about a decade now.
        • Not permitted.

          Have something to hide?
      • exactly...

        The dark side of this is that you would be led around by google.
        I wonder what George Orwell would say. Certainly such was almost embedded in the 1984 novel. A very good read in light of the NSA and google glass now that I think of it...hmmm where is my copy
        • Intrusion?

          What's wrong with suggestion where to grab a coffee while waiting at the airport? Ultimately, you are the one who makes the choice what to do with provided info. You making it sound like the device will drag you somewhere against your will. There is another thing; don't get one.
          • Re:Ladislaver

            The problem is that Google is a business and prefilters your answers to queries according to it's algorithm of 'you'. If you visit the UK and you normally go to Starbucks, you might never discover a Costa for coffee. And what if they sell your preferences so that you get lock-in to certain 'brands'?

    • Neptune Pine

      The Neptune Pine (Kickstarter) is a smartwatch unlike the smart watches you're use to. While I can not see any use in the Glaaxy Gear or the Pebble, which extend your smartphone to your wrist, I can see a value proposition in the Pine. Why is the Pine different? It replaces the smartphone entirely. It's the "Dick Tracy" watch made real. Sure, it's a big piece of screen on your wrist, but it's there instead of in your pocket. It's not a companion device.
      • Cool!

        Thanks for bringing this product to my attention, it's really cool. I'd never seen much purpose to other smartwatches, but a smartwatch that replaces your phone? I might just have to preorder one of these.
        • check out

          Watch phones at mixmelot dot com
      • Love my Gear.

        I never leave my home with out it; it allows me to take care of many tasks while sitting in a subway train without getting my phone out of the bag.
      • ha ha

        Considering that it is pre order only and you speak as one who owns one that would mean you work for the company and are doing a good job advertising it in article comments.
      • Have you tried a smart watch?

        I have a Pebble from the original campaign and I love it. I can't speak to the usefulness of Galaxy Gear but having a Pebble watch that lets me read my text, reminds me of appointments and silently lets me know who is calling has been great. I don't like reading emails on it so I disabled that. It can do many other things in connection to my phone [like remote camera trigger] but I only use some of those features. I don't want a phone replacement mostly because the small screen is not suitable to modern phone functions. A Dick Tracy watch seems 'cool' until you would try and do anything else other than speak to it, base on my experience. The Pebble is an extension of my phone and that is just the way I like it, plus it tells time. I do think however that the gadget developers may have over estimated the market for smart watches.
  • As you found it can be entrancing...

    The biggest issue is "control". As long as it has to be tethered to a remote server there is a problem.

    Places it would REALLY be useful there isn't any cell phone coverage. I'm thinking researchers in the field, or under water... Being able to make safety checks locally could be a boon to firefighters in a forest (I realize updates are a problem, but would also be greatly beneficial). Making field medical checks without a connection would be useful (both ski patrols, forest rangers, ...) when out of reach.
  • Classic blogger mistake . . .

    "How many times in a day do you pull out your smartphone to check if you have any messages? A dozen or two — maybe even three? Probably significantly more in fact."

    Classic blogger mistake: Think that your habits reflect the habits of everybody else.

    I actually rarely see anybody pull out a cell phone this often. There are exceptions, but I wouldn't say this is the behavior of your average person.

    And you don't really need to - most phones have a notification system, which can be set up to make a sound when you get a message. Why would you have to manually check your phone?

    "You've probably seen these wearable glasses before in 'Star Wars', or 'Star Trek', or something similar."

    Quick, how many of these people are wearing a set of glasses on their heads in this photo?

    Oh, that's right - nobody.

    Turns out our utopian visions of what the future must look like are NOT filled with glasses.

    People with specialized professions, or people with disabilities, or perhaps the occasional species that evolved in a special way, may have to wear glasses. But generally speaking, in our visions of what the future might be like, we don't give everybody glasses.