The One Thing Google Glass Forgot: Other People

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

The One Thing Google Glass Forgot: Other People

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]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.