Early Google Glass wearers are figuring out the etiquette of a face-mounted screen
Many owners are constantly fielding excited or paranoid questions from strangers
The flickering screen and constant head-touching can be distracting during conversations
Some people have started pushing their Google Glass onto their head when talking
In recent weeks, Google Glass has been distributed to its first group of beta testers outside Google and in the real world. As the pool of new smart-glass wearers grows, they are feeling out the etiquette of using the new technology.
In more jaded settings, people wearing Glass are casually ignored; their recent life choice to wear a piece of computing hardware wrapped around the front of their faces doesn’t register as unusual. The reactions increase, though, the farther away they go from the safety zones of the Google campus, Silicon Valley and, last week, the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, where the Google I/O Developers conference was being held.
The first reaction from strangers is usually excitement. When the doors opened on a crowded hotel elevator, Google I/O attendee Juan Pablo Risso heard a cry of “He has Google Glass! Come in! Come in!” Risso declined and took the next lift down, only to find the excited guests waiting for him in the lobby, ready with questions.
Because it is still so new and somewhat rare, Google Glass is an excellent conversation starter. When not being accosted by curious strangers, wearers can use the eyewear to break the ice. A friend of Risso’s had luck wearing his to a bar and meeting new people.
After the regular barrage of questions (How does it work? Are you using it now?) many strangers ask to try on the $1,500 piece of hardware. The answer is typically no, and some owners will cite Google’s terms prohibiting the lending of Google Glass as an excuse.
Sometimes, the conversations are behind the wearer’s back, and they’re not always “Oohs” and “Ahhs.” Glass owners reported hearing people whisper after they passed by. But snickers and sneering are common with any new, really expensive technology.
The cost of the devices makes them an easy target; wearing them is still interpreted as a geeky status symbol.
“I think there’s definitely a Glass and Glass-not thing, especially in San Francisco. There’s a cachet to it,” said Greg Roberts, founder of dSky9, a company developing a Google Glass app for remembering people and places.
After the initial shock of seeing Glass in the wild wears off, there are the new and awkward aspects of conversation with someone wearing the tiny screen. When having a casual chat with someone wearing Glass, it can take effort to not stare directly at the shiny gadget instead of into the person’s eyes.
The finger gesture that people use to dismiss the notifications can be distracting, as can the flash of light on the Glass itself.
“There’s definitely an interesting occurrence when the screen lights up with a notification,” Roberts said. “I’ve asked people, ‘did you just take a picture?’ ”
It’s difficult for the other person to actually see what’s on the screen, but the first question has, in fact, become one of paranoia.
Risso dismisses privacy worries, pointing out that his battery would die after just three minutes of video recording anyway. Roberts says people should be a more concerned about government surveillance cameras, which he considers less obvious than a person standing in front of you saying, “OK, Glass, take a picture.”
Just to be polite, some Glass wearers have started pushing the devices up onto their heads like sunglasses when having conversations.
After the shock and paranoia subside, there is the annoyance. Can a person really be engaged in a conversation if there are e-mails in the corner of their eye?
Advocates for the technology argue that having a screen within eye’s reach could actually improve manners in the digital age. People are already habitually checking smartphones that beep and flash regularly with notifications. Instead of reaching for a phone, which can absorb a person’s full attention, Glass brings the notifications directly into the line of sight.
The camera feature could help fix the problem of people experiencing big moments, such as concerts or a child’s birthday party, through their smartphone screens. Instead of taking out a phone, they can keep their eyes on the scene and take a picture at the same time.
“You’re just living your life; you’re not living through a viewfinder,” Risso said.