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Google Glass: But what are people going to say?

by Charlotte Paris , 01.08.2014

Ever since its announcement, Google Glass has drawn attention and polarized opinions.  With the beta version hitting the UK market, we were eager to put the device to the test and reflect on the role of consumer perception in product adoption. Overcoming our self-conscious introvert tendencies, we took Glass to the streets of Paris and London and set out to answer our first burning question: but what are people going to say when they see me wearing this? It would be fair to say that every one of our 9 testers expressed various levels of concern at the thought of wearing Glass in public. The origin of this new found social anxiety is multifaceted: on one hand there is the £1,000 price tag ostentatiously resting on your nose, on the other the attention grabbing design you’re not convinced you can pull off, and last but not least the unfathomable sentiment that you will trigger hostility wherever you go.  There is no denying that wearing Glass is quite a (fashion) statement, but to what extent are those fears founded? And what does this mean for the future of Glass? “A TFL (Transport for London) man on the tube asked me if they were Google Glass with a massive grin on his face” Firstly, if you are wearing Google Glass, do not expect all heads to turn around in your wake, but it can happen. Admittedly some seem mildly puzzled by your choice of eyewear, though the buzz around the technology has translated into a significant level of public awareness with many passers-by shouting ‘Glass’ or ‘Google Glass’ when spotting our testers on the streets. Secondly, our experiment (each using Glass in turns a few days at a time) triggered more curiosity or fascination than it did hostility.  On several occasions, our testers were approached on the tube, in train stations, shopping centres or galleries by individuals eager to understand more about the technology, or in an attempt to try the Glass for themselves. Interest in the product is enough to elicit social interaction in unlikely places. “You aren’t filming us with those are you?” Despite its popularity, Glass can draw its fair share of suspicion. In the UK, cinemas enforcing anti-piracy laws have opted to ban the device, and so have other high-street names like Starbucks. There were also a few occasions during the research when Glass would trigger disapproving looks from fellow pedestrians. As one of our testers was walking along a train station platform in London, a woman accompanied by her children enquired quite sternly whether the device was on and filming (it wasn’t). Being accompanied by children probably influenced her behaviour, but it’s worth wondering if a smartphone held at arms’ length would have prompted a similar reaction. “I did not want parents to come and tell me off for wearing them at the park” Granted, the initial feeling of awkwardness wears off after a few sustained social exposures, but wearing Glass it’s hard not to be aware of your surroundings. It’s not uncommon to second guess your choice to keep the device on; an uncertainty often matched by others. We have used Glass in shops where taking photos with a camera would not have been tolerated and filmed our way through international border controls where despite a certain hesitation, the obvious lack of protocol made the task relatively smooth. But outside of places where you would take your cue from a figure of authority, you naturally revert to unspoken social norms to inform your behaviour, which results in self-censorship. One tester reported taking Glass off when taking his son to the paddling pools in a local park by fear of raising a few parental eyebrows. For quite similar reasons, no one dared to wear Glass when entering public restrooms. “Someone said ‘weirdo’ but it’s unclear if that was directed at the Google Glass or just me generally” You may be familiar with the term “Glasshole”. Originally the word was coined as a clever way to describe inconsiderate Google Glass users, but more and more it is used to describe Google Glass owners generally.  This paradigm shift is happening despite an effort from Google to actively shape the Glass’s image, notably by publishing a list of dos and don’ts for Glass owners (e.g.: “do ask for permission”, “don’t be creepy or rude”). Though the hostility this trend suggests is clearly not prevalent on the streets, it does present a challenge that Google need to address to maintain a positive image of both the brand and Glass users.  For the time being the most obvious functions of Glass are probably enough to cause some rejection, but wait until Glass unleashes its full potential: coupled with facial recognition technology Google Glass allows you to scan faces to display information on an individual such social network profiles, date of birth, relationship status and occupation.  In the midst of a global debate around privacy where Google often finds itself in the centre, it will be interesting to see how the product image evolves over the next few months. Glass has a lot of interest and excitement to capitalise on, but as the novelty wears off, the way in which the general public will be responding to future adoption and use will be decisive in positioning the product in the mind of consumers.  Google Glass users could be labelled as outsiders, or alternatively our society could reassess what constitute a threat to privacy. Similarly, it would be interesting to understand the extent to which an unrestricted use of the product is required for an optimal user experience. The impact on product development could be significant, and innovators will have to take this into account when considering opportunities in the area of wearable tech.