The future has promised us a lot – flying cars, personal jetpacks, ten days aboard the Fhloston Paradise. So far, despite advances in modern medicine and instant communication, the future has been an incredible disappointment.
Now comes Google Glass, a fancy wearable computer that brings the whole of the internet to your right eye. Detroit’s introduction was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) in blocks of three to four hours. Honestly, I was expecting a 30-minute RonCo pitch with lots of excited hipsters stroking their Movember mustaches while trying to not to look interested.
Instead, on a beautiful November day, I stood outside with longtime partner in crime, Dave, surrounded by interested college kids and Google enthusiasts thrilled to be a part of something potentially bigger, and we waited in a relatively short line to see what the fuss was all about. After drinking complimentary hot chocolate and signing some photo release forms we were ushered into another line to watch Google Glass headsets shuttle back and forth from a back room by Google Worker Bees.
Before too much longer we were herded into a more intimate group setting of about eight or nine and given a crash course on how to gently fondle the headsets. When they believed we wouldn’t fall to the floor screaming like we’d been struck by the Spirit, we were briefly gifted a device and the Google Bees turned us loose on the floor. The headset I was given had a technical thingy that was turned down so it initially didn’t recognize my voice – my natural speaking voice is closer to a castrated mouse – but I was able to snap pictures and scroll through the menus by pressing the button on the side and swiping with warmed fingers. I reached out to a nice young Bee who was able to help this old lady adjust the volume so the confounded machine could hear her, and then I was off to the races. Sort of – I could have gotten directions to them at least, had I really wanted. The voice commands are much like what already exist on Google-enabled smartphones – you can wake up Google with a simple “ok google” and ask it a question. I use it quite a bit on my smartphone for directions and store locations when I’m without a navigator in the car. It’s like having Siri, without the emotional codependence and frankly, I’m not that lonely.
It has few buttons, is very light and an awesome sound conductor that sits on the cochlear bone behind your ear. That’s how it speaks to you – discrete and unobtrusive – repeating commands, translated snippets of spoken words, whatever auditory prompt you need. While the screen doesn’t look like much when it’s not you wearing it, it definitely fills your field of vision. Wearing one while driving probably isn’t recommend, since most of us can’t operate the radio in a traffic jam.
It records like this:
Yeah, that’s how cool it was.
Overwhelmed at first, I took a lot of pictures of the crowd, the walls of the MOCAD and Dave. I didn’t ask it questions like who the Lions were playing tomorrow (The Steelers) or what the weather was like (57 and sunny) because for me, that’s not why I’d have such a device. I depend on my smartphone (Galaxy Note II) to keep me entertained and tell me things like the weather and play music for me, but I don’t know if I’d like to wear one on my face all of the time. I don’t document every moment of my life, because I’m too busy living it. I’m not even the shutterbug my mother is, with the hundreds of thousands of photos marking the years of my life from before birth through as recent as my June trip to New Orleans. There is a modern immediacy to commit everything to the internet for future posterity, as if our own memories aren’t good enough – we need to show proof that we existed and experienced things, where for me the experience isn’t enough.
Of course I said that about not needing a fancy smartphone with a touch screen, but if it were taken away from me I’d slip into a state of catatonic schizophrenia.
I couldn’t give you a number on how many folk attended but as groups of nine or ten cycled in and around the spacious gallery, it held easily 50 people at a stretch, all chatting up Glass like singles speed-dating. The Bees kept the people moving and the event had a very airy open feel.
While the Glass experience was phenomenal, unfortunately it wasn’t long enough – though I would imagine even after an hour we’d all say that. All too soon, they collected the headsets and ushered us into a reception room with fancy nibbles, coffee, soda, posters and a chance to really gush to each other what we experienced. We briefly lamented that we hadn’t snapped actual photos of each other wearing the devices, because being considerate adults who don’t take pictures of every blessed thing (I did check in on Foursquare), we hadn’t been sure it was even allowed.
Luckily there was a Photo Booth with glasses to try on and an opportunity to post the photo to your social network – proving you were actually there, because in this case, I was happy to share my experience.
Absolutely it’s a cool device and I wonder about the actual practical uses of something that allows people to live through you, instead of living. I wonder about uploading every moment of our lives so only the good parts can be played back over and over – or the bad parts thrown around like hot embers in dry kindling. I think about privacy and fair use and the legal ramifications of technology that moves faster than laws can be adapted. Granted this is just the musing of someone who views the future with not a little trepidation, and I’ll allow myself a small corner of fear for a device as potentially powerful as this – but I can set that aside for a little fantastic, sci-fi escapism.
Glass, with its live demonstration, was very awesome. That’s my take-away from the afternoon.
If a Google Glass demonstration is coming to someplace cool near you, take a friend and experience the future together.