The One Thing Google Glass Forgot: Other People

Interaction designer Joel Hladecek writes a letter from the future, explaining why Google Glass flopped.

Google Glass is a technical marvel, and it’s been developed with a very minimal UI to stay light on your attention span. Glass’s best-known enemy to widespread user adoption is its poor fashion sense—and no doubt, that’s a problem Google is working hard to solve.

Yet there’s still something a bit off, isn’t there?

In a prognosticating letter from the future, interaction designer Joel Hladecek nails Glass’s less tangible problem on the head: The problem with Google Glass won’t be how a person feels using it but how people around them feel seeing Glass in use.

I think what Google completely missed, developing Glass in their private, billion dollar bouncy-house laboratory, were some basic realities that would ultimately limit adoption of Glass’ persistent access to technology: factors related to humanity and culture, real-world relationships, social settings and pressures, and unspoken etiquette …

Wearing Google Glass made users feel like they didn’t have to connect with the actual humans around them. "I’m elsewhere–-even though I appear to be staring right at you." Frankly the people who wore Google Glass were afraid of the people around them. And Glass gave them a strange transparent hiding place. A self-centered context for suffering through normal moments of uncomfortable close proximity. Does it matter that everyone around you is more uncomfortable for it?

At least with a hand-held phone there was no charade. The very presence of the device in hand, head down, was a clear flag alerting bystanders to the momentary disconnect. "At the moment, I’m not paying attention to you."

But in its utterly elitist privacy, Google Glass offered none of that body language …

In a conversation I had a few weeks back with frog, they likened that dead-eyed phenomenon with a wife trying to talk to her husband with the game playing over her shoulder. To believe that someone is looking at you—paying attention and thereby acknowledging your importance as a human being—and then realizing that they’re not is a subtly humiliating experience.

It’s almost as if Glass should block out a user’s eyes when they’re surfing through information, or create some other obstruction to perceived eye contact. I realize that solution sounds a little forced (and I’m sure there are better ones). But in order for society to adopt invisible, naturalistic technologies, those technologies can’t fundamentally undermine the core interactions grounding society.

Read the full letter here.

[Hat tip: Co.Labs]

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  • Tony Stark

    Meanwhile someone in a basement is busy designing a discrete cybernetic interface that will blow Google glass away forever.

  • Hilary Gee

    The other point is that many people wear glasses all/some of the time to improve their eyesight. Will there be a 'clip on' version of Google glass to fit onto their normal specs? Or will the frame support prescription lenses if they go that way?

  • Guest

    Is anybody else a little bit concerned about letting a corporation see (and record, and attempt to "monetize") everything you see and hear all day long?

  • David Rosenthal

    I think you're missing the point and intention of Google Glass, at least in its current iteration.  So far everything shown has been tiny helper type "apps" that give you quick access to very small amounts of data that ordinarily you'd have to bury yourself in your phone to retrieve.  Directions, time, meeting reminders, quickly taking a picture, etc etc.  None of these require more than a quick moment or two of your attention and then you are back to the real world.  All done hands free and without the distraction of diving into your phone that offers a million other things you end up caught up in.  I seriously doubt they are designing Glass so that all of us can sit around watching Youtube videos on it, since that goes directly against their design philosophy of putting humans back into the here and now without forcing them to be Luddites.

  • Anika Davis

    I agree with you Mark, Google completely missed to create a fashionable design for Google Glass.You wouldn't want to wear a gadget which doesn't suit your face cut, and makes you look like a Dork. Aside from that, Google Glass would come with a tiny battery, if you are a power user, using internet and video, you might enjoy it only for about 4 or 5 hours, before recharging it.

  • Sheila

    This is a really good point. This reminds me of a conversation I had about typing while on a conference call - sometimes other people on the call will take offense if they notice that you're typing during the conversation. If you're typing, you're not giving the conversation your full attention. The only way out that I know of is that if you're about to type while on a call, to acknowledge it ("I'm going to look something up right now, but I'm still listening"). That reassurance seems to solve the problem. With Glass, though, I'm not sure if disclaimers are going to be enough.

  • VovixLDR

    This reaction is the very reason I think it WILL definitely turn the world on its head:)

  • Alex

    I think it is too intrusive on all levels both to the user and to those around the user. Who would want to hang out or go on a date with someone wearing these? Awkward.

  • Gsdesign

    Exactly. When they first came out, I remember numerous times wheret - A: I thought a person is talking to me but they were on the phone. B: I'm talking to someone on the phone and someone by me thought I was addressing them.
    And no matter how many times this happened, it never quite went away and still sometimes happens to this day, so many years later. 

  • Chris Kelly

    Great comparison. Google Glass very much fits into the bluetooth headset world right now. It feels futuristic, but I'm not going to wear one

  • Glass

    I was wondering the same thing, seems like Google glasses will result in a lot of "huh..?" moments. I know I would feel uncomfortable talking to some one wearing them, how do you know if their paying attention to you or not. They basically make the real world an app you can just tune out of when ever you want, like if your cell phone was glued to your forehead so the screen would block one eye and you were using the devices camera to see. Hundreds of people all sitting in the same room but only interacting through social media, sounds like one hell of a nightmare to me. And I am not sure about a generational gap, as a young designer I know a lot of my colleagues feel the same way about the glasses. I want my technology to be with me at all times but I don't want to feel constantly pressured by it and a piece of glass directly in front of your eye sounds very intruding, although I've never worn the glasses. It seems a lot like a step in the direction of the future Pixar depicted in Wall-E, not one I personally want to live in.

  • wober2

    I think this will slow adoption but not really a deal breaker. I do think bluetooth headsets have this phenomenon too. People still complain about people on their cellphones too, being removed. Might end up being a generational gap and a long time before it catches on for mass appeal. 

  • Illburfren

    I was thinking the same thing. There are many and plenty of times when you think someone is talking to you, but they are actually using a bluetooth. Personally, I don't like the Google Glass concept, nor do I like bluetooth, but I think maybe the glasses illuminating would be a good indicator of weather the user is talking to you or their Glass.