The Psychology of Google Glass
Google Glass, for those of you who have been living under a rock the past week, is a new technology product that resembles a funky pair of modern glasses… without the glass. Over one eye, instead, is a cube of glass that displays information in front of your eyeball. Instead of looking at a handheld device’s screen, you’re kind of looking at this “heads-up” display of info. It takes voice commands to navigate, just like the latest generation of smartphones can.
Some people are really excited by this new technology device. It is one step closer to interacting with a computer inside your brain rather than through our organic input devices (in this case, our eyeballs and voice).
But it begs the question — who is having difficulty using existing devices where wearing your computer on your head is less obtrusive (or obnoxious) than wearing it in your pocket or purse?
Robert Scoble, one technologist, listed three cool things about Google Glass from his personal experience after wearing it for 2 weeks:
1. They are much more social than looking at a cell phone. Why? I don’t need to look away from you to use Google, or get directions, or do other things.
2. The voice works and works with nearly every one and in every situation. It’s the first product that literally everyone could use it with voice. It’s actually quite amazing, even though I know that the magic is that it expects to hear only a small number of things. “OK Glass, Take a Picture” works. “OK Glass, Take a Photo” doesn’t. The Glass is forcing your voice commands to be a certain set of commands and no others will be considered. This makes accuracy crazy high, even if you have an accent.
[3.] I continue to be amazed with the camera. It totally changes photography and video. Why? I can capture moments.
Let’s go through these, shall we?
1. How is pretending to look and pay attention to someone — simply because the screen is in front of you as one eye is looking at them — any different than looking away to check a screen on a handheld device? At least with a handheld device, the other person knows when you are no longer paying attention to them. With Google Glass, you might seem to be looking at me, but you could just as well be buying a pair of shoes on Amazon.com.
From a human interaction perspective, this is maddening. Google Glass is going to once again blur the lines between real social interaction — being “in the moment” with another human being — and just being physically present. Being present is what a lot of people do at their full-time jobs (e.g., people who aren’t doing what they love for a living). You clock in, put together the widgets, then clock out.
When I’m engaged in a social interaction with another human being, I want them to be not just physically there with me — but also emotionally and intellectually engaged with me. If they are only “half there” while checking stock quotes and their Facebook page on Google Glass, honestly, that’s not a quality human interaction any longer (nor one worth my time).
Because we have a mountain of research that demonstrates — without a doubt — that people are generally poor multi-taskers. So while you think you won’t be noticed checking Facebook on Google Glass, guess what — you will be. And it’ll be a huge turn-off.
2. My five year old car has voice commands. I never use them because it takes more brain processing power to speak something than to push a button on the dash.
I think some technologists in our society became enamored of voice commands through science fiction like Star Trek, e.g., “Computer, tell me what’s our current speed.” Wow, that’s great, the computer responds with your current speed, “Warp 5.4.” Looking at an intelligently designed dashboard could’ve gotten you the same information with just a glance — and again, expending zero brain cycles in having to formulate a command — and in Google Glass’s apparent case, the correct command — and then speak it.
My iPhone also has extensive voice commands, and while I use them to compose text sometimes, I’m not really clear on how doing it through thin air (e.g., Google Glass) is somehow “better” than doing it to a handheld device I have to pull out of my pocket first. More convenient? Perhaps,1 but it’s offset by the lesser convenience of having to wear (and constantly recharge) a somewhat heavy (as far as glasses go) and unconventional pair of glasses.
3. People seem obsessed with “capturing moments” in their lives. Each and every one of us already does this every day — they’re called memories. Memories are wonderfully artistic, colorful and vibrant things. But we actually have to fully experience the event we’re trying to capture in a memory in order to recall it later.
Today, we’re losing that ability to a pale imitation of memory — photographs and videos. A photograph or video can never replay the actual emotional and intellectual experience of being at an event or living in a moment of time in your life.
In the movie, Strange Days, people could experience other people’s recorded experiences through a neural interface — but it was the full experience: emotions, smells, sights, sounds, you name it. Short of that, even a video taken today is equivalent to a Civil War photograph in terms of being as immersive and fully-experienced compared to actual memory.
Now don’t get me wrong — it’s great to capture a moment in photographs or video from time to time in your life. But not every moment. And not to the point where capturing the moment is more important than living in the moment.
Someone wearing Google Glass might claim, “Well, that’s the beauty of Glass — I can capture it without interruption.” Umm, sure ya can. Until you hit that memory limit, or need to try and do a real-time upload of video on a sketchy wifi or 3G connection. Or find your battery is running low (again). Or any of a number of other technological things that can and do happen when you have an always-on connection to unlimited distractions.
Every time a Google Glass wearer starts talking to me, my first thought is always going to be, “Are they really listening to me or updating their Facebook status? Are they really here with me, or are they out there somewhere online?” When I see that person not really following what I’m saying, I’ll have my answer.
Google Glass could be a game changer for some. For instance, I think that for some people who have certain handicaps, it could really help improve their lives.
But for most of the rest of the world, Google Glass is going to be an interrupter — not disrupter — of social interactions.
It is one of those technologies answering a question — much like the Segway — that nobody asked.
For further reading: The one big factor Google Glass is missing
- Really, is reaching into your pocket that big a deal?? [↩]
Grohol, J. (2013). The Psychology of Google Glass. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/05/08/the-psychology-of-google-glass/