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5 big challenges for Google Glass

HardwareFeatures
by Rob Sobers, 31 Jul 2013Features
5 big challenges for Google Glass

Google Glass, for all its promise, has some scary implications. Here is my list of 5 potential challenges we face with Glass:

  • User Experience
  • Social Awkwardness
  • Privacy (or lack thereof)
  • Obsession
  • Humanity

1. User Experience

It’s early days right now, so I don’t want to harp on too much about UX challenges, but there are a few worth mentioning, not least how I can walk up to someone and start controlling their device by simply uttering: “OK Glass.” Yikes.

Some other notable growing pains:

  • It’s really hard to see the screen in daylight
  • Looking up and to the right (where the screen is located) can hurt your eyes after a while
  • Don’t try to drive with Glass on.  Trust me on this one
  • The voice commands are limited and you have to say things exactly how Glass expects them
  • The volume is quite low – rather than using an ear bud, Glass uses bone conduction
  • Short battery life

Survival tip: Hang tight. These are all things that Google has some or full control over, so we can expect improvements consistently over time as the engineers learn and the components become more advanced. 

There’s nothing really damaging or fearful about the user experience of Glass; in fact, for an alpha release of a product category that didn’t exist 12 months ago, it’s extremely impressive.

2. Social Awkwardness

Have you ever tried having a conversation with someone who is wearing Glass? It's really unpleasant. Is the thing on? Are they recording me? Are they checking their email? It's just...obnoxious.

Hilarious, but not far from reality.

The ungainliness will likely subside as Glass gets smaller and more obscure - eventually fitting inconspicuously in the frames of your Ray-Ban’s - but that will just amplify the angst of not knowing whether you're being recorded or completely ignored.  At least with iPhones, it's completely obvious when someone isn’t paying attention.

Survival tip: Just as we’re learning that sometimes we need to turn our phones off when we want to be fully present, we’re going to need to take off or turn off Glass. “OK Glass, don’t interrupt me or even let me know you’re here unless it’s the zombie apocalypse.”

3. Privacy (or lack thereof)

Have you ever done or said something stupid at a party or other social setting?  No?  Well, everyone else in the world has. And, for most of us, those moments are gone forever. As they should be. Maybe they're committed to our own memory, but they're not lurking on a hard drive waiting to go viral.

Inevitably the battery life of Glass will enable 24/7 recording with data streamed instantly into the cloud for storage and replication. Combine this with the rapid advancements in facial recognition and privacy and anonymity are out the door.

So how do we hide from Glass?

Survival tip: Accept that you cannot hide. We can barely hide now from the gadgets we have, especially in public places. If you think about it, any time a number of people in a contained area get together, the chances that someone will record some part of the proceedings is pretty high. We are adapting. Hopefully the positive outcomes (identifying miscreants or missing children) will outweigh the negative ones (privacy violations and extortion).

4. Obsession

Will we ever turn Google Glass off, or will we become one with our devices, science fiction-style?

At Varonis, we’re fascinated with digital collaboration, work habits, and human-computer interaction, because our software helps make those things safer by protecting sensitive information from those who shouldn’t have access to it. We’ve done a number of research reports on these topics and they all support the hypothesis that many of us are becoming obsessed:

  • 86% of people surveyed consider themselves device obsessed or “always on”
  • 44% use their devices during meals
  • 20% consider themselves borderline workaholics
  • 15% bring their work devices on vacation

Survival tip: Again, turn it off! Glass is the ultimate multi-tasking device. While we might feel like we’re being more productive by doing many things at once, there are rapidly diminishing returns. Studies show that the human brain is terrible at multi-tasking.  So we will have to be disciplined about turning Google Glass off, not only for the sake of our own personal productivity, but for the sanity of the people we interact with.

5. Humanity

We shouldn’t let technology be a substitute for acting human. Wearable technology like Glass, which is omnipresent and entangled with our consciousness, has a strong potential for distancing us from human interaction. 

A quick personal story.

After college, I scraped together enough money to backpack through Europe for a bit. It was my first time outside of my native US. My first time on a plane, even. Buckingham Palace, the Louvre, St. Peter’s cathedral, the Colosseum - I was gulping down experiences one by one, with my own eyes and ears.  I took my fair share of photos, but I recall seeing droves of tourists walking through St. Peter’s glued to the glowing screens of their video cameras. They were capturing everything, but experiencing nothing.

As much as I adore technology, I’m grateful that I didn’t have an iPhone on that trip.  And imagining my trip, or my daughter’s graduation, through Google Glass honestly makes me a bit queasy. 

Blogger Jason Calacanis has an extreme viewpoint: “The space between you and me is sacred. It’s the last sacred place we have left, and Google Glass destroys it. There’s no social norm that will solve it.”

I think that’s taking it too far. I think many of us are capable of balance.

Survival tip: Be balanced.  There will be times where Google Glass will greatly enhance life. But there will be plenty of times when you and your friends and family would be far better served if you’d just shut the thing off. Follow Google’s own motto here: Don’t Be Evil. And don’t be rude. Be present for your loved ones.

OK, Glass: save and close blog post.

Rob Sobers is Director at security firm Varonis

Top image: Flickr (infocux Technologies)

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