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

It's not the technology – it's the failure to anticipate social reactions.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

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.

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