The Google Glass hypefest: “Look at me! Look at me!”

google-glass-On my early morning walks along the sea wall, I used to regularly see a man upon whose shoulder perched a large parrot. As we approached each other on the path, this man would smile his vaguely goofy big smile at me, while motioning towards the parrot with a sideways head bob to make sure that I noticed the bird. He looked pathetically eager to draw attention to himself (and really, why else would he walk around town wearing a real live parrot on his shoulder?)

His was the silent screech: “Look at me! Look at me! Notice anything?”  And because some perverse part of me recoils at paying any attention whatsoever to those who seem so cloyingly needy, my response every morning was to just look away until both man and bird were nicely behind me on that path.

Sadly, I’m now seeing a variation of that vaguely goofy big smile on Twitter.  These belong in the profile photos of tech geeks who are beta testing The Next Big Thing, which is, of course, Google Glass. Their gleeful faces too seem to screech at the rest of us: “Look at me! Look at me! Notice anything?”  

Google Glass is the hands-free wearable computing device from Google that lets users take photos, record videos, get turn-by-turn traffic directions, make phone calls, send and receive text messages, search the Internet, and get stared at by other people.

In an utterly brilliant pre-launch marketing strategy, Glass was originally available at $1,500 a pop to a select number of early “Project Glass Explorers” in the U.S. – but some estimate its ultimate retail cost to consumers may be around $299 when the device is publicly launched soon.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin gushed during his 2013 TED talk that Glass improves on the smartphone experience, which he describes dismissively as “emasculating”.

You may recognize Glass wearers (even without spotting their dorky eyewear) by hearing people around you yell out to nobody in particular: “Okay Glass!” before issuing instructions like “Take a picture!” or Record a video!”

How is this less irritating than listening to Mr. Important walking around downtown speaking to an invisible audience via his mobile headset?

There’s little doubt that wearable computing eyeglasses are fun toys in the view of certain geek-like persons. But already a number of questions have arisen.

The Los Angeles Times reported recently, for example, that some critics view Glass as “an invasive new technology that — if it takes off — could rob people of what few shreds of privacy they have left.”

As University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo told The Times:

“The in-your-face quality of Glass could wake up more people to their ever-shrinking privacy in a rapidly advancing digital age. Not only will people be more keenly aware that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public, Glass and devices like it could make it easier for government authorities to gain access to everything they see and record without a warrant.

“And, with a warrant, the government might even be able to remotely turn on Glass’ video recording capability without the user’s knowledge, the way it has done with OnStar systems in our cars.”

Privacy concerns about Glass are not going away, according to Rick Kam, president of the privacy firm, ID Experts, as reported recently by FierceHealthIT. Kam points out several risks, including his belief that Glass is prone to hacking:

“The dangers of mobile computing, in fact, lie not only in the devices, but in the applications they run and the data they generate. Both are expanding exponentially.”

Critics also cite Glass as another disturbing example of how enslaved people are to their tech devices – but in this case, it’s a deliberately show-off sign of that enslavement flaunting socially offensive technology.

Speaking of disturbing, writer Gary Shteyngart wrote in The New Yorker that when wearing Glass, his bodily demeanour changes: he jerks his head, slides his finger along the device, raises his right eyebrow, squints his right eye and mouths words to active the device. To onlookers, his bodily movements appear rather strange. Friends tell him that he looks as if he has a nervous tic, a lazy eye, a faraway, distracted gaze as he scans the readouts on his lens; his wife thinks he acts like a robot when using Glass.

Yet Google calls Glass “a liberating breakthrough” that will make technology more convenient and less obnoxious in social situations than checking a smartphone.

But I can hardly imagine that Glass won’t be at least as obnoxious as any other tech interruption during face-to-face conversation is.  See also:  “OMG! I Forgot My Phone!”

Glass wearers, for example, need to glance upward when they want to look at the screen above their right eye, so you tell me how annoying it will be to watch your Glass-wearing companions repeatedly pausing in mid-sentence to look up at the ceiling to read their incoming emails or check hockey scores instead of actually listening to you. The flickering screen and constant head-touching are distracting during conversations, essentially allowing browser technology to preempt the real life that’s going on right in front of their faces.

And as Nikolaus Heger commented on TechCrunch:

“Contrary to what Sergey Brin promised at its introduction, Glass  advantages over a phone are also its disadvantages. It’s basically like saying the problem is that people look down at their phones all the time; therefore, the solution is to glue a cell phone to everyone’s forehead.”

Sociologist Dr. Deborah Lupton recently wrote that because Glass takes images so readily, it doesn’t feel like taking a picture. It feels like just making a mental note to remember what you’re looking at – a kind of  ‘life-logging’ device taking constant images to preserve your memories. But she also cites other sociologists who warn that this may be akin to outsourcing memories to a device, thus hindering ability to experience the actual moments that those memories attach to.

Still, you’d think that those who love new technology would love Glass, but already we can see that this is just not universally so.

Los Angeles technology entrepreneur and investor Jason Calacanis says he has asked friends to remove Glass in his presence, banned Glass from poker games, and coined a new term to describe what he feels like doing when he spots Glass wearers:

Glass-kicking.”

TechRadar’s Alex Roth has spent time with the device and reported:

“Is Glass cool and entirely novel? Yes, it certainly is.  Is it a device that will change the life of, or even just prove useful to, the average consumer?

“That’s doubtful.”

Glass has already been banned from casinos, movie theatres and some bars to protect against cheating, copyright infringement and privacy intrusions.

Over in the U.K., the Department of Transport has legislation in place to prohibit all drivers from using a wearable computer with head-mounted display” or what’s been dubbed “Glassing and driving”, complete with the same penalties as those currently levied for other driver distractions like texting while behind the wheel.

And don’t forget Nick Bilton of The New York Times, whose story described the moment when “the future came crashing down” on him as he stood at a urinal next to a Glass wearer at the Google I/O conference.  Think about it. THE URINAL!

Although there are already laws against “video voyeurism” – taking pictures of naked people in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy – with Glass, it’s arguably easier to ignore the law, record away, and not get caught. And yes, these folks have already been dubbed Glass-holes.

Other potential banned locations include banks/ATMs, hospitals, classrooms, dressing rooms and, yes, strip clubs. (The Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club in Las Vegas, for example, has already informed customers that Google Glass will NOT be accompanying them to the Champagne Room).

But Google is downplaying privacy and security risks, assuring the public that it will not permit facial recognition apps (or porn apps).

Google also says it’s obvious to others when someone is taking pictures or recording a video on Glass. But AP technology writer Michael Liedtke revealed that even his Google sales rep wasn’t aware he was being  filmed. Michael simply raised one hand to his glasses as if he were just adjusting the frame to distract from the red recording light while he filmed the rep talking directly to him.

Honestly, I’ve tried to stay out of this embarrassing gush of breathless infatuation over a product that’s not even on the market yet. But a growing number of physicians – the early-adopter-tech-geek-docs – seem excited about how Glass will magically change the entire future of health care as we know it.

As a heart attack survivor, blogger and women’s health advocate, I’m particularly interested in how patient care might be impacted by all this magic. I’m interested because so far, almost everything that’s been written about Glass has been from the whiz-bang-WOW! perspective of the person wearing them – not the poor schmuck sitting across from the Glass-wearer who’s in the actual target cross-hairs of this technology.

For example, here’s part of my own dissenting response to Dr. Ted Eytan‘s recent post on how Glass may help foster “patient-centered” care in the doctor’s office:

“From a patient’s perspective, here’s what it’s like: I’ll be sitting there, waiting patiently in the exam room for my doctor to enter, and when she arrives, I’ll look up at my Glass-wearing doctor’s face – even more intently than usual, in fact, because she’s now sporting this dorky new eyewear. Which she will have to explain in considerable time-consuming detail for me and every other patient who’s seeing Glass for the first time.

“But she is not looking at me. 

“Instead of making normal eye contact with me, or asking about my kids, or attempting to put me at ease because I’m there to discuss my latest test results, my doc’s eyes will regularly flit skyward as she reads informational text about me or my condition on the small screen above her right eye. 

“Real live conversation will be awkwardly interrupted because she can’t talk and read at the same time. In between, she is tapping, scanning, and – (oh please!) – using voice commands to move from screen to screen to retrieve yet more data about me.”

Yet some geek-docs believe that using Glass may cut down on the time doctors spend doing non-patient-facing tasks like taking notes and looking at medical record information.

Dr. Errol Ozdalga, who teaches at Stanford University School of Medicine, explained:

“I would love to use it while caring for patients, but we have to be careful to protect patient privacy. Recording patients in the hospital can be legally challenging.

“I personally think that the effect Google Glass has in patient care is going to take time to develop, but it will eventually play a great role as technology is more accepted and the devices become more discrete.”

How will other patients respond to the thought of their doctors wearing Google’s head-worn gadgets? During a presentation at startup incubator Rock Health’s Health Innovation Summit in San Francisco recently, the industry funders of a patient survey boasted that, of 200 patients who had been asked before a doctor’s appointment if they minded if their doctor wore Google Glass during their visit, only three of them refused.

* EARTH TO ROCK HEALTH and other tech investors: posing “Do you mind?” questions in the highly hierarchical setting of medicine seldom results in refusals from many patients – even questions like: “Do you mind if this nice young med student who’s never had a minute of practical clinical experience pokes his finger up your bum to do your rectal exam today?”  Even when it’s quite clearly NOT what patients want or need, it’s an oft-identified response based on common reluctance to turn down a doctor’s request for fear of being labelled a difficult patient.

As cardiologist Dr. Kevin Campbell helps to explain:

“It’s just human nature that patients want to please their doctors.”

Meanwhile, if you are a tech hypester whose Twitter profile photo is of you flashing that goofy big smile because you’re wearing your Google Glass and we’re not, please take the photo down. Yes, yes, we know. You’re cool. You’re hip.  Blahblahblah.

Now get over yourself, and put those attention-seeking things away before Jason Calacanis and his pals give you a good old-fashioned Glass-kicking . . .

UPDATE June 9, 2014:  A KevinMD column about live-broadcasting surgery called “Google Glass Has  a Long Way To Go in the O.R.” reports on surgery performed in London while the surgeon wears Google Glass to film the procedure. The list of distractions is telling. For example:

  • The surgeon talked about how many people in different countries were watching.
  • He said that a number of text messages were coming up on his Google Glass screen.
  • At 21 minutes into the case, he stopped for a 5-minute interview with a TV crew.
  • He chatted with a colleague who came into the room.
  • He asked questions of the audience and answered them himself.
  • Several times, he asked his technical crew how things were going.

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13 thoughts on “The Google Glass hypefest: “Look at me! Look at me!”

  1. On the relative meaninglessness of patient assent to “Do you mind…”?” questions:

    Last year, after the immediate medical business was over, I said I wanted to discuss something with the doctor privately and asked the medical student if she would please leave the room. Before she did so, the look of shock on both faces said that this simply doesn’t happen.

    And, when a particular friend asked how I had followed up on what that doctor had written in my medical record, when I told her of this particular discussion, she exclaimed, “So you just took over the appointment!?!”

    Ummmm… To me, this seemed rather straightforward and matter-of-fact. I needed to conduct a particular discussion, asked for conducive space and opened a necessary (and ongoing) discussion.

    Yet, the reaction of others is instructive: Even this was seen as usurping doc prerogative.

    The particular doc of this example, btw, finds that, in many ways, the electronic data stream in every room interrupts his attention and interferes with quality patient care, so he enjoys his annual medical missions ever more.

    I would not care to have an even more distracted doc wearing the cool glasses.

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    • Hello Kathleen – Great illustration of how suspect patient assent is re those “Do you mind…” questions. Loved your story, which seems to confirm the rarity of patients “taking over” the appointment simply by piping up with a simple request. Agree completely with your last statement…

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  2. Noam Chomsky said Google Glass is a way of destroying people, and “This is a dream that Orwell couldn’t have concocted.” http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2013/06/19/noam-chomsky-hates-on-google-glass.html

    If asked would I mind if a doctor wore a pair of those during an appointment, I would say yes I would mind, and probably quote Chomsky.

    However, if I or any other patient wants to record the appointment, that’s another story. Has anyone asked doctors how they feel about patients recording them? That would be a good way to “take over the appointment”. I can’t believe someone would think a simple request is taking over!

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  3. In my opinion, we all need to be assertive and give doctors a resounding “NO!” when it comes to Google Glass.

    Gmail and Google apps are considered not safe for privacy issues (in the U.S., not HIPAA compliant). Google has been subject to repeated security breaches, and does change its privacy policy regularly without informing users.

    I do not want any of my medical information stored on Google’s cloud. Sadly, I was recently reading about this issue on a medical blog. In the comment section. many doctors were annoyed that patients were resisting, saying they didn’t want to find their exam on YouTube, or a consult with a colleague without permission. Some of the doctors were downright angry. I suppose they want to try out the new tech toy.

    I realize it is difficult sometimes to say, “Yes, I do mind.Perhaps all of us need practice before the issue comes up. “Doctor, please put that device away.” and “Google has too many security breaches.”

    That should be enough, although perhaps my grandmother’s favorite comment, “The subject is closed” may be necessary.

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  4. Representing the goofy grin contingent … 🙂

    … here’s my comment re your comment on Ted’s blog post:

    Google Glass and Patient-Centered Care? We Patients Need Google Glass!

    The following is from my column Google Glass and the Future of Healthcare

    “What will patients think when they see their physician wearing Glass? In my opinion, it will become just another tool they associate with healthcare workers (less obtrusive than the head mirror that used to be a symbol of the medical profession). The bigger question should be, what will physicians and others think when they see a patient wearing Glass?

    “Glass won’t disrupt and transform healthcare unless patients, not just providers, begin to use it (I told you I was going out on a limb! I know lots who’d disagree!). I look forward (well, sort of) to Glass telling me how many calories are in that second slice of cheesecake, that 65 percent of my followers forgo it – in real-time, while I’m reaching for it.

    “When a busy specialist lists alternatives and contraindications heading out the exam room door, I want to review the video, including automatically inserted links. God forbid, someday, when I am (hopefully temporarily) too weak to lift a mouse or smartphone, let alone a tablet, I want to stay in touch with relatives, friends, and colleagues.

    “Soon, if it hasn’t already happened, someone will emerge from surgery and his or her first words will be, “Where’s my Glass? Could you put it on me? OK Glass…” And, if someone doesn’t happen to own Glass, give them one when admitted, to help navigate from place to place, to access educational material, and to, generally, pass the time in a more interactive way than staring at the hospital room TV.

    “So, yes, I predict Google Glass will have a big impact, used by clinicians, on healthcare. But it’ll have an even bigger impact on healthcare if it is wildly successful outside healthcare.

    “Let’s just say I’d like patients and physicians to meet eye-to-eye, so to speak.

    Signed

    Doctors Are Patients Too

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    • Thanks Dr. W – I’ve read your column a number of times already, and still don’t get how it actually fits into the point of this post – which is how this, or any other technological device, impacts doctor-patient communication. As Harvard Business School dean Nitin Nohria recently said: “Communication is the real work of leadership.” Whether or not patients will awaken from surgery one day and immediately demand Google Glass is not the point (predictable among those who are already wearing the ‘goofy grins’, right?) You may be right – Glass might become “wildly successful” both in and outside of health care. But right now, even many tech hypemeisters are not betting on it.

      And no, doctors are not patients too.

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  5. Hi –

    This is a good dialogue. I think I/we should listen to what the patient thinks is good communication for them – it’s their health and health care, not the physician’s.

    You know I wish someone would have told me earlier in my career that important lesson – any patient that allows a student in is giving them a gift in the hope that they’ll perform well for a future patient. If we in the profession teach that, when a patient says, “I’d prefer a private conversation,” it will not be seen as abnormal – just a need to tend to their health in the best way at that moment. And it’s an honor to respect that request.

    When I shadow other physicians I advise “If at least one patient declines having another doctor in the room, that means you are asking for permission correctly.”

    I think this a good post and marker for others to reference when they think about what the tool does and what it may not do. We need to discover that in partnership, yes?

    Thanks again for listening,

    Ted

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    • Thanks so much for weighing in here. I appreciate your message, particularly because I’m so concerned that virtually everything I’ve heard/read about Google Glass is completely focused on features/benefits from the unique perspective of the Glass wearer, not on those people trying to communicate with the Glass wearer. And when those people are patients, I just can’t imagine how this intrusive technological distraction strapped to our doctors’ faces is going to enhance one-on-one communication in such an important relationship.

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      • Dear Carolyn,

        Of course – I think a lot of the rhetoric is going to change when it gets to the level of a person’s health. We had the same conversations when we talked about putting a computer in the room – would the doctor get absorbed with the technology? And then we saw videos of physicians using paper charts – videos showing them flipping through the pages, not once looking up at the patient. It didn’t say to us, “let’s move forward with computers,” it said, “let’s focus on communication and what our patients want, not what we think they want.” It’s our mission, or passion, and it transcends any tool or technology. I hope when it comes to this specific device with patients that you’ll be in the room talking about how it feels for you, because if you feel it, it’s real.

        BTW this is one of the major themes of our work at the Center for Total Health in Washington, DC – if you are in the neighborhood, come in for a tour. What we say is that our members (that’s what we call our patients) decide what health is for them, not their doctors. Luckily, I can say that, because I am one, and I know how much better care becomes when we approach it that way,

        Ted

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        • Your Center for Total Health sounds fantastic! Good comparison about the introduction of computers in exam rooms (although I’m reminded of the recent story of the schoolchildren asked to draw pictures of a visit to the doctor’s office – one child’s drawing simply shows the back of her doctor’s head as he focuses on the laptop screen).

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