Google Glass: Yet another example that Google doesn't understand 'social'?

Google Glass: Yet another example that Google doesn't understand 'social'?

Summary: It's not the technology – it's the failure to anticipate social reactions.

TOPICS: Google

As Google ships the first production units of its "Glass" glasses, and volumes of adoration spill from the geek community, I can't help thinking that this is a product that will fail along with other socially inept Google hardware, such as the short-lived Nexus Q media player.

Google Glass will fail for the simple reason that it won't be socially acceptable to be video or audio recording people around you without their permission, or to be online constantly without others knowing. It's just creepy, and people won't put up with people who wear them in their company.

I say this because I've been shooting a lot of photos and videos over the past year, in and around Silicon Valley. I always ask permission first, because I've noticed a growing reluctance among people to have others shooting photos and videos around them.

This never used to be much of a problem; people loved having their photos posted online, and video, too. It was all part and parcel of the novelty of the ease with which people could promote themselves and others through a variety of online platforms.

(Image: Tom Foremski/ZDNet)

That novelty faded a long time ago. Today, most people's attitudes are far more wary toward being recorded in any way, and what is done with that content, and where it is published.

So, how will Google's goggles fit into a social and business events scene that is increasingly averse to being watched, recorded, and shared? The answer is it won't.

Don't record me, bro!

Surveillance is OK for buildings, but it's most certainly not OK for personal and business relationships.

With a smartphone, at least you know a person is using it, and what they are doing with it. With Google Glass, you don't know whether it's on, what the device is doing (is the "X-ray" feature active?), what the user is looking at on their screen, whether they are present or distracted. Are they publishing this online right now? Or later?

Google Glass is a product designed by engineers who clearly don't understand interpersonal interactions. It's for the culturally clueless, who will remain sidelined in social situations as they currently are now — without the glasses.

And here's another reason why Google's Glass won't replace smartphones: What will geeks stare at when they are out and about in public spaces, too awkward to meet people's gazes, if they don't have a phone screen to hide behind?

Will we see them sitting around with glassy, thousand-miles-away stares?

Industrial apps

I can see Google Glass being useful in many industrial applications, such aircraft maintenance, where access to manuals and related information can speed work and ensure it's done right.

Walking along a street is fine, but certainly not driving cars, where there are already restrictions on phoning and texting, and where more restrictions on smart device use will follow, most probably around "Glass"-type devices.

In social and business situations, they won't be acceptable. There will be a strong general cultural backlash.

Reality is the new black

In a world of constant digital intrusions, amid layers of augmented realities, good old unadorned reality will gain a new following, because it can't be manipulated, and it is rare — That sunset only lasts a few moments, that connection with your friend, that look, that touch. It's gone in an instant.

That scarcity will invest reality with so much more value than a million digitally rendered and recorded experiences.

People will show their respect for each other by showing that they are totally present with one another — and you can't do that if you are wearing Google's goggles.

In the near future, "Be here right now" will be a new (renewed) mantra.

Related stories

Topic: Google

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  • Permission

    In Melbourne I see people taking photos of other people quite often; generally on the trains. Sometimes its to do with incidents but the majority are because the girl/guy is attractive, or the photographer is just being annoying. I've had people growl at me because I've turned away or blocked the camera when they've tried to take a photo of me. I'm sure there are laws to say someone can't take your photo for private use, especially without your permission. Why should Google Glass be any different.
    • no laws re private photos

      At least here in the U.S., nope, there are no laws against photographing someone without their permission. Of course, that assumes you're not sneaking into an area where you don't belong and not letting the person know you are there. For instance, if I sneaked into someone's house while the door happened to be open and hid in a closet, that wouldn't fall under "don't need their permission".

      It also assumes the person doing the photography isn't using special equipment to gain visual access to off-limits areas such as a periscope-type device to see into a private bedroom.

      There are certain "invasion of privacy" laws that vary from state to state, but they generally don't prevent photographing someone without the person's permission if the person is readily visible. For instance, there's nothing to stop me from standing on a sidewalk and using a regular camera to take photographs of people inside a house with no closed window blinds, etc. But standing 500 feet away and using a telephoto lens might be an invasion of privacy.
      • Some Standard Restrictions

        It really comes down to how these outputs, like photos, will be used/consumed. At most media outlets, you are required to get permission from children's parents before running photos for children under a certain age. If some of this content is being pushed out with money tied to it, then yes, you could leave yourself open to liability for not asking for permission from subjects captured. With right to privacy being such a big thing, it will be interesting to see how possible laws/ethics will evolve with these emerging technologies.
        • What if I don't like how they MIGHT be used?

          Things of that nature (certain information available too freely) has been used against me as a weapon. I feel fully justified and believe I have the right to protect myself. If someone walks in a room and aims a gun at me without realizing it I would still react as if they meant to pull the trigger.

          Of course justification would depend on what I had in my hands at that moment, and not just what is in their hands or over their eyelid. Protecting myself with gun may be too heavy handed while a baseball bat wouldn't be.
          Dave Keays
          • with Google

            You have absolutely no idea who has access to your photos when they arrive at Google. The "but they don't store identifying information" is pretty much clueless, as it's trivial to use face recognition technology to know who you are - which is precisely what Google Glass is intended to do.

            Look at a stranger and the Glass tells you everything about them. Now, someone looks at your kid trough Google Glass and they already know how appropriate that kid is for kidnapping, because they have all your financial, relationship, etc info on display -- at the moment... Scary.
          • The article is one of the best I have read on this issue.

            The reason I feel its one of the best articles on Google Goggles is because it cuts so plainly and simply right to the matter of fact core of the issue.

            Admittedly, by way of full disclosure, its the very thing I have been saying precisely for the last several days on ZDNet message boards about the main problem with Google goggles, so of course I agree with it.

            "Google Glass will fail for the simple reason that it won't be socially acceptable to be video or audio recording people around you without their permission, or to be online constantly without others knowing"

            Above quote is exactly what I have said, and I believe it encompasses the reasons why after some period, actually putting Google goggles to regular use when out and about the town will not be a practical possibility. And I suspect that inability to use them as freely as Google seems to imply you will, will interfere enormously with their general popularity greatly.

            "I've noticed a growing reluctance among people to have others shooting photos and videos around them."

            Absolute fact. I have said this exact point in recent posts Ive made about this. This is not a guess here about peoples response to knowing someone near them has a camera and might be about to shoot a picture, it happens with frequency already. If Google goggles ever did become popular, well, I simply cannot believe it would simply absolutely solidify peoples general distaste for potentially having their photo show up on the internet depicting any given moment of their day.

            "With a smartphone, at least you know a person is using it, and what they are doing with it. With Google Glass, you don't know whether it's on, what the device is doing (is the "X-ray" feature active?), what the user is looking at on their screen, whether they are present or distracted. Are they publishing this online right now? Or later?"

            These are the exact kind of things that will start crossing through others minds once they come to realize exactly what it is these weird things people are starting to wear are. At first it would simply be a case of the Google goggle wearer being avoided as people see them coming, but if a lot of people did start wearing them in public, the problems would really start. The general public would just say "this is too much, I cant take a decent walk through the local mall anymore without passing three dozen Google goggle wearers and its terribly annoying as I dont want my image on the internet like that incidentally or not".

            If these Google goggles only sold a minimal number of sets in the end, of course the problem of the general kind I and Tom Foremski clearly agree is at issue, would never arise to the degree it otherwise would. The once in a blue moon appearance of Google goggles in a public place is not going to draw huge public score, just a wary look. But dont you think Googles goal is to sell these things to at least a reasonable percentage of the public eventually? I see zero reason not to expect Googles goal is to quickly corner the market on this kind of thing, hoping the public will eventually gobble up millions of sets of these things making them a common item.

            And thats exactly the situation that would cause the backlash. There are simply going to be way too many people that will say "ENOUGH!".

            Sure, security and surveillance cameras are already far more pervasive in public places than most people realize, but its not in your face and as Tom Foremski points out, "Surveillance is OK for buildings, but it's most certainly not OK for personal and business relationships", not to mention, its just not any old person who would have access to such surveillance video, building management can be held responsible, no such situation exists in a situation where millions of a countries citizens are just wandering about public places without direct accountability. People know full well once a pic or video hits the net the damage is done, almost always in a fairly "forever" way. Tracking the video creator down and hauling them into court, if you ever can find who made it, at some later date and hauling them into court because of the nature of the material, and/or lack of permission for use of the material, often hardly provides for reasonable remedy for the situation.

            And cell phone cameras, again Foremski points out that the situation is distinguished by "at least you know a person is using it, and what they are doing with it." Further, a smartphone isnt typically right out there already pointing and ready to instantaneously begin the recording process at a drop of a dime without notice.

            Foremski's article, for me, mirrors what I have been saying is the exact problem these Google goggles will face. We make movies about the kind of things in the future where people have to stand up and say "enough" because we have decided that technology has arrived at a place that unjustly requires us to adapt and change our social behavior in a rather unfair dehumanizing way so as not to run afoul of problems and issues the technology will create for us if we are not "very careful" about our public, or even private behavior.

            Its absolutely laughable to see people around here who simply spout off about photography and privacy laws and how it all works. People who then proclaim that the things will be legal, what they do will be per-say legal, and so we had just better get used to the whole thing, as if that’s the only kind of thinking mankind ever puts into controversial subjects and issues. It seems to me the social problems that Google goggles will create will be impossible at some point to just be able to say, “The things are legal, taking pictures is legal so suffer”.

            We have a whole regime and a myriad of products for consumption and or use that have become tightly regulated because of the problems and issues they create, the dreamland some users around here seem to live in, about the whole “its legal so get used to it” notion, have no foresight at all. As is far far too often the situation around ZDNet message boards, far too many posters try and talk like experts then fail to take into consideration clear and obvious points of contention that will without any doubt come to impact on the situation in critical ways.

            Of course this will never simply be a case of “its legal so suck it up and suffer with it”. Only a mind without foresight and or clouded by issues relating to endearment toward the company involved would think that something like Google goggles will remain relatively untouchable because of their inherently legal nature.
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        • There's no laws that state a news outlet MUST get permission to record.

          You're wrong about news outlets getting permission from subjects in public. If they do it, that's just to get more legal safety but that safety has always been under the 1st amendment.
      • NO laws

        There are no laws that cover public areas, but many states do have laws that prevent recordings in private without permission.
    • other features

      You forgot that taking pictures and video is one aspect of this device. Say you are shopping and want to check the price of the item you are looking at. Or check out some information, basically retrieve data in general from the internet (weather, sports, news, etc.). When they release glass to the public, then maybe they could add a small led in front to show when the camera is active, that way the public would know if you are taking a picture/video or not.
      • a small led

        Any miscreant will just disconnect or if "protected", just paint the led over.
        • Ya, lets give a simple great example.

          This is not some made up story about a bunch of things that would have to eventually take place for the point to be relevent, everything has already happened and is in place, except the Google goggles.

          We already live in a society with any number and kind of people who indulge in anti scocial behavior, if you think there would not ever be a way for inventive savvy people to circumvent any system like an "active" light or any such thing on Google goggles you really do live in dreamland.

          Any so called warning device would only make the situation far worse in circumstances of the worst risk. Perverts and terrorists, casual peepers and private detectives are NOT going to walk around advertising they are now taking video, in fact the exact opposite would be exactly the case and the existance of any such warning devices attached to Google goggles would only help them lead the public into a false sense of security once the related devices are circumvented.

          Im constantly shocked that people who post on an IT website just are not getting this.

          Its rediculous. Think about this. For real think about this. Forget being a Google lover who dosnt want to see Google fail again because of what only seems like a cool invention on the surface is actually an idea on horribly shaky long term ground.
          • well, this is what "innovation" is all about

            Inevitably, devices will be integrated more and more tightly into our persons. If glass fails, well so be it. Google is still well funded through their core products. But something similar will be attempted again and again until it finally becomes practical. At least they are not always following like microsoft.
      • A recording indicator has to be conspicuous

        Actually, if you are recording video / audio or taking pictures, the glasses should CONSPICUOUSLY indicate this by a large section of the glasses frame flashing a red light, or something similar. That may be the only way these devices become socially tolerated.
        P. Douglas
    • Gowl....

      I too would growl if a photo was being taken specifically of me and I had no idea as to who the photographer was. I deserve some privacy and anonymity and I will establish that with any errant photographer if I feel uncomfortable.
      Also, the glasses do not differ in form as compared to having a conversation with someone who is glued to their smartphone...either converse with me or the phone but not both thank you.
    • No issue

      I don't understand the hoopla in the original article. Yes of course people won't keep their glasses on and point a camera at everyone they talk to. The polite thing to do is take them off (shirt pocket, or on your head pointing up) much like you do with sunglasses; because keeping sunglasses on in personal interaction is also impolite.

      As for cars, I hope Google can make the case that it's actually safer to look through those things at GPS directions versus having to take your eyes off the road looking at some screen in or on the dash.

      That'll be Google's battle to win. (Not saying it'll be easy, because all kinds of idiot politicians will start doing what they do best: being idiots without even having used them or gaining factual information.)
      Han CNX
      • "That'll be Google's battle to win". You make it sound like a "Simple Plan"

        @Han CNX

        "The polite thing to do is take them off (shirt pocket, or on your head pointing up) much like you do with sunglasses; because keeping sunglasses on in personal interaction is also impolite".

        Nice point. You yourself sound like a very respectful person.

        But, your thoughts while showing your own respectful persona, address nothing about the actual real life problems that do currently exist in absolutely rife numbers that run contrary to your own character.

        While I dont want to sound disrespectful toward you, the problem you exhibit is a common problem where you have simplified the issue into a completely unrealistic mess.

        We might just as well say that people who indulge in alcohol are not much of an issue because they should simply not drive because it would be the reckless thing to do. No biggy right.

        We should say that people who drive should recognize that traveling down the road should recognize that maintaining safe speeds is critical to maintaining safe roads so people just need to "watch it" when they are on the road, that should suffice right? No biggy. Who needs speed limits.

        It goes on and on. Its so absolutely ridiculous to even be speaking in terms of "people who eventually come to own Google goggles just need to be polite about things". Again, such outright shortsightedness is astonishing to see.

        Firstly, we know, we really honestly do know as a fact the “lets all get along” approach is not going to work, and its not going to work so obviously it really is silly to even bring it up beyond saying “isn’t it too bad the world is jam packed full of people who will refuse to get along and behave.”

        Secondly, we do not live in some completely socially clueless world where people are across the board are so naïve to think everyone is always playing fair. There is no possible way, no way no how the general public is ever, ever going to simply say “I know that there are hundreds of people I will pass today, walking the streets and through the mall with Google goggles on, but people being the respectful humans they always are, nobody will be doing any disrespectful actions towards me or my family with those Google goggles because that’s the way people are”. No sir! FAIL!

        What the public will say is, “I cant feel safe when Im out with my kids anymore because every day I have to pass by 200 strangers with recording devices strapped to their eyes watching everything me and my kids are doing, I never know anymore which ones may have ulterior motives and its horrible because in a single day I pass by hundreds, its gotten to be very unnerving”.

        You cant escape this completely INEVITABLE phenomenon by saying people will need to get respectful. We already know they will not. You might as well start building homes with the front doors leading straight out to a cliff with a sheer 200 meter drop and say “people need to start growing wings”.

        All these dreamland ideas about what the panacea of Google goggles can be needs to get real. These ideas that get posted over and over again about the pure legalities of such a device, or the rules of polite behavior when using such a device are just silly. None of these kind of arguments are going to win the day and its common sense that people will, without any doubt, eventually come to complain very very loudly that enough is enough when they cant go out in the public with their kids anymore because there are hundreds of strangers walking around with cameras jacked into the internet pointed right at them ready to begin recording at a moments notice. Common sense should tell any thinking RESPECTFUL human being that even when one simply describes that reality that would IN FACT exist with Google goggles that its actually a very socially disrespectful by its nature and has some very smarmy overtones to it generally.

        This is a simple fact that cant be escaped through ignoring the reality of the obvious fallout of that kind of situation.
  • it will be come a normal

    like every new technology it will first take a while to catch on, but once it does it does it becomes normal there are so many pratical use for google glass thats has been highlighted from emergency service, policing lecturing preserving evidence and even in countries where you might need to catch record of people collecting bribes, even can be used by the military I really cant believe even you can see that you sound like someone from the 80s who is afraid what a new tech will do, or someone who is afraid to use a smartphone when the first came out
    Lanre Baddy
    • no more restarting your life, or forgetting your past

      First some background about me; I was outside of the standards of society for 20 years because of a brain tumor. While the medical issues are now under control (thanks to medication and surgery), some of the moodiness and changes in my personality still occur on occasion.

      I was hoping that being judged by superficial standards was behind me. The Internet has shifted focus onto the standards of a different group, but not eliminated the unjust judgement calls as it promised. In fact, it now focusses even more sharply on them. If you step even a little out of line it can be broadcast to the world. Why is Eric Schmidt (the CEO of Google Inc) so willing to be the tool of a lie?

      I have made sure my friends and associates know the general situation, there is no reason for most of them to know the details. Those kinds of details have been used as a weapon against me in the past so I'm going to prepare to defend against them in the future. Even if the future is suddenly kinder to me I should be the one to decide when to reveal that information, not someone on the street with one a spy camera.

      My situation is unusual, but not unique as some claim when they dismiss my arguments. There are millions of people in America with TLE (Temporal Lobe Epilepsy) which you cannot see until they act different. There are other forms of Epilepsy that doesn't cause those side effects, but the medication to control the seizures do cause those kinds of side-effects.

      As a side note, some anti-convulsants (anti-epileptic medicine) are used to control schizophrenia and bi-polar disease. They can cause people to have very minor form of those side-effects. Unfortunately that means to many epileptics that people will judge their lives by their uncontrollable actions in 2-3 minutes that may only happen once or twice a year. At a hospital I was talking to someone with schizophrenia who said knowing them was a burden- my question now is why does that burden have to be spread across the globe where it can be the basis for bad judgement calls?

      Thanks to people with spy cams, you will no longer be allowed to restart your life by simply forgetting your past. If you try to do so many such as Eric Schmidt will think you are doing something wrong (I take it to mean "morally wrong").

      Then there are situations that can be misunderstood (let's say you are canvassing a mall and don't realize that one of the retail stores sell things you are morally against until your neighbours see a picture of you walking out of the store on the Internet). It looks to me like we will no longer be able to have individual opinions. It sounds weird, but it is scary.

      Why is Eric Schmidt so uncaring towards those who are already struggling to make brain trauma livable? To paraphrase Tupac Shakur's Only God Can Judge Me "Please Eric, there are a million others stressing just like me". (I'm not sure if this publication would be happy if I quoted him verbatim).
      Dave Keays
    • No

      No it will not become normal.