They’re coming. In fact, there are already a couple thousand of them walking around in such cities as New York and San Francisco. We’re talking about Google Glass, a revolutionary wearable device that puts the intelligence of a smartphone and a camera right on your face. Glass has the potential to transform mobile computing forever and also the way humans interact — for better and for worse.
Although the device won’t ship to consumers until 2014, developers fortunate enough to be selected for Google’s Glass Explorer program can already do a lot with their new toy. Users can search the Web, take photos and videos and check their social networks through voice commands, and view the results right in front of them. Glass Explorer Noble Ackerson puts it this way: “With the screen right above your eye, Glass allows you to engage with your surroundings with the added benefits of retrieving information, but without obstructing your field of view.”
With more than 10 million smart glasses expected to be sold by 2016 (according to research firm IHS), it shouldn’t surprise you to see people wearing Google Glass on the subway, in the grocery store and at their child’s after-school activities. But is the public ready?
Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said that the world will need to develop a code of etiquette for the head-mounted computer. Put another way, there could be a lot of “Glassholes” out there. UrbanDictionary defines Glasshole as “a person who constantly talks to their Google Glass, ignoring the outside world.”
To help establish some general guidelines for using Google Glass in a polite way, we spoke with Ackerson and two etiquette experts to give you some rules of engagement.
“Use your own discretion based on the situation,” lifestyle and etiquette expert (and author of “The Power of Polite”) Elaine Swann said. Although this is a vague notion, Swann noted that respect and consideration are two principles you should apply when using Google Glass. Daniel Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute (and author of “Manners in a Digital World”) agreed, stating that the heart of etiquette is thinking about what you’re doing before you do it and taking others into consideration. For example, you’d probably remove your Glass in a job interview, but you could strut your Glass freely down Fifth Avenue.
When you’re surfing the Web, your undivided attention isn’t on the person you’re conversing with, no matter how good of a multitasker you are. Engaging in a conversation while not fully paying attention to that person is just rude. Swann took it even further, asserting that Glass users shouldn’t use the search function in public at all: “It’s almost as if you’re walking with your head down. You’re just not paying attention. You want to make sure you’re still remaining a part of society.”
How would you feel if you were making an important presentation and members of your audience were too busy checking their Facebook or searching the Web to notice your main points? Chances are it would tick you off, and it’s the same thing for Google Glass. Plus, a lot of meetings are confidential, so you shouldn’t be equipped with a device that takes photos and videos anyway. It could rub a lot of co-workers the wrong way, or even get you fired.
It’s illegal to take photos or videos in movie theaters and some museums. Google Glass makes it easier to take photos and videos, and theoretically you could take photos and videos without anyone in those settings noticing. But Post Senning was quick to point out that “just because you could sneak that video, doesn’t mean you should.” Swann agreed, stating “treat the camera and video function the same as you would a handheld camera.” You wouldn’t get away with shooting video on a handheld camera in a movie theater, so you shouldn’t with Google Glass.
Say you see a domestic argument on your way to work, or you’re the one who’s fighting with your wife. Don’t record it. Recording a fight for later analysis can only result in more fighting. One of Ackerson’s Glass Etiquette cards says it all: “Do not record your spouse during spousal disputes. You will be single before long if you do.” The exception here is if you’re afraid someone is in danger, for example, or if you see a person who looks like they’re about to attack someone. Swann advised to “mind your own business unless you think that person is dangerous.” That way, if they do indeed end up hurting someone, you have the evidence on tape.
This applies to the bathroom in your own home and public restrooms. We know, you bring your smartphone with you everywhere, but don’t make the same rule for Google Glass. No one wants to accidentally see a video of you in the bathroom, and God forbid your Google Glass falls into the toilet. Do you want to pay $1,500 for a new unit? And just imagine the anger of those in a public restroom if you walked in wearing your Glass. One of Ackerson’s Etiquette cards states that “others may get extra paranoid during private situations.” However, there are those like tech personality Robert Scoble, who wears his Google Glass in public bathrooms and posted images of himself in the shower wearing Google Glass, which has been met by the public with mixed reviews.
There are some situations where you’re having a serious talk with someone or want to show them that you’re paying full attention to what they’re saying. Ackerson relates this to any setting where being courteous is important, and “we tend to excuse ourselves when we get an incoming call.” That signal shows that you don’t want to disrupt anyone, and you want to give them your undivided attention when you return from your call.
Google has developed a few signals to do that without removing Google Glass entirely. “The Californian” is a move where users put the Glass on top of their head, like they would with sunglasses. “The LeBeau” is where users turn their Glass off and wear it backward around their neck.
Ackerson noted that “we use social signals in every environment all the time and these signals become social norms.” Post Senning noted that this “removes even the question” that you could be secretly using Glass, and that these moves “give the other person a lot of security and confidence.”
Ackerson points out that if it’s legal to use a recording device in public, then people in the area are generally aware and probably won’t get offended. However, if you’re pinpointing an individual and taking a photo or video of just them, it’s best to be safe and get their consent first. Swann said, “I wouldn’t just walk up and snap a photo of someone. It’s important for people to respect people’s privacy.” Post Senning agreed, stating, “If you would tell someone about the phone you’re holding in your hand taking a video, the same rule applies to Glasses on your forehead.”
Also, it’s one thing to take a public video of a general crowd outside. It’s another to film a dinner party at a friends’ house. In private, etiquette standards become stricter. Swann noted to be safe rather than sorry, and “get permission first before you start to record anyone.” Post Senning added that if you’re in an intimate situation, although you need to tell them your intentions with your Google Glass, it doesn’t need to be a big reveal.
There’s going to be a technological learning curve when people first start seeing Google Glass on the street, as there is with any new technology. Ackerson noted that “as with everything new, people may find it amazing, odd, different … and perhaps to some people, scary.” The best way to meet this challenge is to educate people about Google Glass. Post Senning called the first wearers of Google Glass “ambassadors” and “trailblazers” of the technology, and that they need to be aware of that. People are scared of the unknown, and if they understand the technology and its purpose, they’re more likely to accept it.
Sure, it’s tempting to constantly surf the Web, check your social networks and get updates. But if you’re tuned into Google Glass all the time, you’re tuned out to the world around you and you’ve become the definition of a Glasshole. Know the proper time and place to use your Google Glass and when to engage with those around you. Ackerson summed it up: “I’m pretty confident if [Google Glass users] adhere to being a normal member of society, [we’ll] be free of that label.”