My name is Ivy Ross… I look forward to answering the seemingly simple, but truly audacious questions Glass poses: Can technology be something that frees us up and keeps us in the moment, rather than taking us out of it? Can it help us look up and out at the world around us, and the people who share it with us?
The newly appointed head of Google Glass is posing the right questions in her first statement. However, she faces a huge challenge – indeed, a potentially unwinnable challenge – to overcome the user experience problems of Google Glass.
I have no doubt Google is capable of refining the physical hardware of the product and iterating the user interface seen by the wearer. It has actually done a remarkably good job in both these areas already.
The user experience problems of Glass lie in the relationship between the wearer and those they are interacting with. I cannot foresee any technological advance overcoming the far more fundamental problem which afflicts Glass: trust.
Every time humans interact there is a sub-conscious evaluation of trust. Sometimes it is influenced by prior knowledge of that person, sometimes by their appearance or their body language. Glass is a barrier to trust, because it causes uncertainty in the minds of those interacting the wearer: are they recording me, are they paying attention to me, are they going to be interrupted by a notification?
Moreover, any wearer with an ounce of empathy will feel uncomfortable knowing their device is causing this mistrust and their behaviour will change. They will feel self-conscious, guilty even, and their nervousness will become further apparent.
Consider this: why have studies found that people dislike over-hearing someone talking on their phone in a public place, but react more favourably to over-hearing a loud conversation between two people? Our brains are engines of curiosity and they hate not hearing the full story or seeing the full picture. Glass, by its very nature, creates that feeling when you’re interacting with someone wearing it – a sense you’re missing half the conversation, that they know something you don’t or that they have one foot in a world you’re not invited to.
I applaud Google for investing in experimentation and being sufficiently committed to explore how people react to the product in real world conditions. However, it is hard to see it breaking outside specific niches in anything like its current form.
How many people do you imagine will ever choose the incremental convenience of digital eyewear when weighed against the heavy social implications?