The mysterious appeal of Google Glasses

Most people have likely heard of Google Glass, a device that looks like a pair of glasses that apparently enables the wearer to be connected to the internet all the time. It also allows them to record what is going on around them but because the glasses are unobtrusive, the people in their vicinity may not know they are being recorded and this has apparently led to angry confrontations with those who feel their privacy is being invaded.

I am not an early adopter of new technology and usually refrain from being critical of them. But I am at a loss to understand the appeal of Google Glass, though I am curious about how they work.

Jason Jones of The Daily Show seems as mystified as I am.

(This clip aired on June 12, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. Marshall says

    Hi Mano,

    The appeal is the increasing tendency for people to capture and share their experiences immediately with those in their social circles (or the public). This is sort of the 21st-century version of the feeling of happiness you get from showing a photo album of your family to others. If you have Facebook, it’s the same as sharing pictures. I [usually/sometimes] enjoy looking at pictures that my friends post, because it lets me feel closer to what’s going on their lives, and I feel I can share a bit of their happiness.

    Google Glass takes this one step further, and lets you see their experience through their eyes (well, almost). I think we’re still quite a ways away from it being something unobtrusive, and there are the obvious issues of privacy that you alluded to above.

    Another benefit (I’ve never used them) is the fact that they are capable of overlaying information on top of your field of view. This could be useful when traveling, for example, as you could walk down the street and it could display historic information about the buildings around you. Or if you were passing by a restaurant, you could immediately view the menu.

    There are a whole slew of benefits, as well as risks. Right now the technology is obviously in its infancy, and so it seems a little ridiculous to us, but I think the general principle is to allow us to access information more easily that would otherwise require pulling out our phones.

  2. Marshall says

    From Wikipedia, both a touchpad and through voice activation:

    A touchpad is located on the side of Google Glass, allowing users to control the device by swiping through a timeline-like interface displayed on the screen.[23] Sliding backward shows current events, such as weather, and sliding forward shows past events, such as phone calls, photos, circle updates, etc.

    Voice Activation:
    Other than the touchpad, Google Glass can be controlled using “voice actions”. To activate Glass, wearers tilt their heads 30° upward (which can be altered for preference) or tap the touchpad, and say “O.K., Glass.” Once Glass is activated, wearers can say an action, such as “Take a picture”, “Record a video”, “Hangout with [person/Google+ circle]”, “Google ‘What year was Wikipedia founded?'”, “Give me directions to the Eiffel Tower”, and “Send a message to John”[40] (many of these commands can be seen in a product video released in February 2013).[41] For search results that are read back to the user, the voice response is relayed using bone conduction through a transducer that sits beside the ear, thereby rendering the sound almost inaudible to other people.[42]

  3. lorn says

    IMHO there are plenty of places where Google Glass makes a whole lot of sense.

    Troubleshooting electronics, when I often wish I had three hands and could read a circuit schematic hanging up side down, comes immediately to mind. Yes, I can get the schematic on the pad and bring up an overlay of the expected voltages/signal but working it means manipulating test probe/s and balancing the pad on one knee while working in a confined space. Having the diagram visible and manipulable hands-free makes a lot of sense.

    That said there aren’t a whole lot of people regularly doing things that require the use of both hands and manipulation of data at the same time. If for some reason you have your hands occupied, or your hands don’t work, you have reason enough to wear such a device. If your hands are no occupied, or non-functional, then you are wearing the glasses simply to make a statement. And people making statements should expect a response.

  4. A. Noyd says

    lorn (#5)

    That said there aren’t a whole lot of people regularly doing things that require the use of both hands and manipulation of data at the same time.

    I guess where you live people don’t try to text or surf the web on their phones while they’re pushing a shopping cart full of food. Lucky you! And really, it’s not just about having hands free but where people’s attention is. Even if they don’t need their hands for other things, they’re an annoyance when they’re walking around like drunken idiots while squinting down at their smartphone keyboards.

  5. Nick Gotts says

    Another benefit (I’ve never used them) is the fact that they are capable of overlaying information on top of your field of view. -- Marshall@1

    I’ve recently finished David Brin’s SF novel Existence, set mainly around 2050. It’s focused on theFermi Paradox, but an important part of the setting is that just about everyone wears advanced versions of Google Glasses, accessing hundreds of layers of such information (and effects added purely for entertainment). They are activated mostly by subvocal commands.

  6. jamessweet says

    That said there aren’t a whole lot of people regularly doing things that require the use of both hands and manipulation of data at the same time

    Rocking a newborn while working from home :p

    I dunno, this whole thread seems really “Get off my lawn!”-ish. I like being connected. Wish I had a grand-plus to drop on Google Glass…

  7. hyphenman says


    Driving downtown this morning I watched a youngish teenager walk up to the intersection, cross the street and disappear around a corner without ever taking his eyes off his smart phone.

    At one high school where I work, the hallways between classes are eerily quiet as students, ear buds in and faces down at the smart phone gripped between both hands, transit from one classroom to the next, neither looking left or right and not acknowledging their peers.

    I know the reality isn’t as bad as Larry Niven’s drouds, but the situation is getting closer and closer.

    Derf Backderf, one of Mano’s neighbors,. has nailed the subject..


  8. richardrobinson says

    I’m in the same boat as lorn. I see Glass as a powerful tool that I think will find a number of commercial and industrial uses. It’s really cool and I may even get one for myself at some point.

    But in a social context, I don’t see how it’s any different from walking around holding up your smartphone. A screen is a screen, and if you’re looking at it, with head and gaze tilted upward, you’re obviously not looking at the people around you. And if you learn to be inconspicuous about it, you’ve just taken away a cue from your interlocutor that they have your attention. That’s worse, not better.

    I’m also realizing I can’t actually use Glass. I’m strongly left-eye dominant and right-handed. I would need the touch pad separated from the screen if I don’t want to be constantly reaching around my head to use the touch pad.

  9. says

    Go Ogle glass is more like it.

    Glass and its users are no different than upskirt spycamera operators, another form of leering and harassment. The number of complaints about its users is growing faster than the adoption of the product.

  10. richardrobinson says

    I will say a lot of the privacy concerns stem from folks misunderstanding their right to privacy. Mainly, that it mostly doesn’t exist when they’re out in public. Unless you specifically take steps to shield yourself from the view of others, such as by entering a public bathroom and toilet stall, you don’t have a right not to be seen by others. And if they can see you, they can usually record you. There are nuances and exceptions, of course.

    It doesn’t make sense to be offended by the guy standing in front of you with a camera while ignoring the guy with the telephoto lens across the street.

  11. hyphenman says

    @ richardrobinson

    Broadly speaking, you’re not incorrect. Speaking as news photographer with nearly 30 years in the field, however, I have to say that the line is very, very blurry. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled variously over the years, making distinctions among professional and casual photographer (and by extension videographers), the kind of subject--adult, child-- photos taken in a public place, such as a public toilet, where we have an expectation of privacy, the number and focus of the photo (is there only one person in the photo or is a crowd involved) is the photo indoors or outdoors; and on and on and on.

    I predict that Google Glass will eventually become the subject of a Supreme Court case and even then, there will be much left unclear.

    Then there is the broader privacy issue of the social appropriateness of the photo. Stalkers and paparazzi come to mind and the distinction between public and private individuals. There is also the recent case where Google took down the street-level image of a prominent banker at his request. What could be more public than your house as seen from the street?

    There are whole classes in Journalism and Law schools on just this topic. Public and private individuals have successfully sued even news organizations (although this is rare,check out some of the suits that The National Enquirer have fought over the years).


  12. richardrobinson says

    I was definitely speaking broadly. Thanks for the details. I learned something.

    @left0ver1under, unless a glass user is lying on his back on a public sidewalk and taking pictures as women step over his head, glass users are nothing like upskirt creeps. People are allowed to take pictures and record video of you in public, at least up until they run into the limits hyphenman pointed out.

    And for the most part those limits have less to do with the recording and more to do with how it is collected. A stalker isn’t off the hook if he forgets to put film in his camera.

  13. hyphenman says

    I forgot to add: and how will we all feel when the revelation becomes public that Google, in collusion with the National Security Agency, has uploaded all the Google Glass feeds to the NSA server farm in Utah?

    Holy shades of Howard Finch.

  14. A. Noyd says

    richardrobinson (#12)

    A screen is a screen, and if you’re looking at it, with head and gaze tilted upward, you’re obviously not looking at the people around you.

    You don’t keep your head tilted upward, you signal you’re about to input commands by briefly nodding your head upward at a particular angle. I imagine the device ignores you if you do keep your head tilted up. And a screen that requires your attention be fixed on a particular location at a particular depth is not the same as a screen that can project information into your natural field of vision. I don’t want people texting via a HUD while they’re driving because it’s still too distracting for safety, but maybe a GPS that overlays directions onto the actual street would be safer than one with a small monitor stuck to your windshield.

  15. DsylexicHippo says

    If only they removed the creepy camera from the interface……. I’d be ready to drop a grand and a half for that. The technology is cool, the camera is not.

  16. A. Noyd says

    @DyslexicHippo (#19)
    The point of the camera isn’t just to take pictures and video. It’s so that people can develop apps that incorporate real-time image recognition, which will vastly improve the utility of Glass and make it something more than a cell phone stuck to your face.

    You could go to a party and have the name of everyone there displayed above their head along with some info on how and whether you know them. (It could also let you know if any of them are sex offenders—something you might want to know if they’re handing you a drink.) You could look at signs in a country where you don’t speak the language and have them immediately translated for you. You could see consumer report ratings or warnings of a brand’s shady corporate practices just by looking at products in a store. The Amber Alert system could notify you if you’re near a child who matches the description of an abductee. You could go on personalized tours of anywhere and get the history of whatever you’re looking at whispered into your head.

    There’s also all sorts of potential for abuse by Glass users, Google, the government, advertisers, etc. I don’t want to minimize that. But getting rid of the camera would be crippling the future utility of the device.

  17. hyphenman says

    @ A. Noyd

    At least now, if I see someone with Google Glass, I can walk away.

    The technology will advance to where the camera and the interface are invisible to the naked eye and we won’t know when we’re being recorded.

    I hate people who show up at social events solely for the purpose of making business contacts. Imagine how much more annoyed I would be knowing that people may be getting paid to record and upload data for advertising/marketing information. Conceiving of the myriad ways in which even more nefarious purposes to which the technology can be put is not difficult.

    We would not tolerate a reporter standing in a bar, notebook in hand, filming everyone in the bar. Why shoujld be tolerate that same individual wearing Google Glass?

    S + F = k (security plus freedom = some constant). Yes, Google Glass my increase security, but at a cost of freedom (including the freedom to be a private citizen, to just be left alone) I am not willing to accept or tolerate.

    When will the first pair of expensive Google Glass be dashed to the ground and smashed? Very, very soon.


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