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:
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?
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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