Hey you down there with the glasses…

I have been thinking a lot about Google Glass since I first heard about it in 2012. In December, at the DotMed conference I had my photo taken by someone wearing Glass for the first time – they were in the Netherlands, and I was in Dublin, which made it more impressive.

I read this piece by Wired’s Mat Honen and the reaction to it by John Gruber and I wonder why Google Glass isn’t seen as a slam-dunk inevitable evolution of technology.

My excitement about Google Glass is as a clinician and the potential, low-cost solutions it could provide if used correctly. Mobile phones and latterly smart phones all had their initial success due to business/enterprise end users finding that the devices made their work easier. Clinicians have the opportunity to lead on this technology. I see myself writing a lot about Glass and other wearable tech in 2014.

The anxiety about whether Google Glass will thrive in the consumer market seems to rest on the social acceptablilty of people wearing camera-communicators on their face, rather than having them in their pocket.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

I recall my father getting a mobile phone in 1990. This was in Ireland, and he was one of the first 1,000 people to get one. It was new technology, a new way of doing things and it didn’t come with a guide to how to behave when using it.

If a call came to the phone, the decent thing to do would be to stop, stand against a wall or preferably in a doorway, and take the call in sotto voce while not drawing too much attention to yourself. Even if you managed to pull this off, passers-by would still stare at the wizard taking a phonecall in a street.

Nobody stopped to think about the social rules that would go with the introduction of such a device into society. We have reached a truce with mobile phone technology with what is socially acceptable. It must be hard for anyone under 25 to imagine how strange it used to feel to hear one side of a mobile phone call when in a public space.

In 1990, people were amazed by the technology that allowed mobile phones to work, and not concerned about the social impact of their use. In 2014 for Google Glass, people are not surprised by the technology, and are focussing on the social impact. The social response to people starting to wear Glass is just going to work itself out based on whether people want it or not, isn’t it?

In 2005 a friend of mine is showed me his Sony P910, the first Smartphone I ever played with. I could understand the usefulness of having email in your pocket, but I didn’t see the need for me personally. I was impressed that the tech existed, but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t see how checking my email constantly would fit into the social construct of my day. I was fine checking it 2-3 times a day, max, from a laptop or on a work computer at lunch. It suited my friend, because his work depended on it.

It was the iPhone in 2007 that finally put email in my pocket, and when I had it, like everyone else, I realised it was useful and a gateway drug to other “always on” communications. Uses and usefulness won’t become appaerent until there’s a critical mass of users, as well as different types of users. Twitter suddenly made more sense in 2008 when consumers started using smartphones in larger numbers compared to its launch in 2006.

Glass is going to go through the same phases. Power users are going to introduce it to environments where Glass will thrive. The concept of what it is and what it does will trickle down to others and there will be a leap to general consumer acceptance. Then there will be some killer application which will be the Twitter of wearable computing, and we’ll never know how we managed to live without it.

I do wonder how ignorable Google Glass is when you’re wearing it, but don’t want to use it. Do you feel compelled to use it? How will consumers feel comfortable wearing Glass during downtime? What is the equivalent behaviour of “putting your phone away”?

Perhaps Apple are ahead of the curve with their rumoured iWatch. MP3 players, smartphones and tablets were already on the market from other companies, but it took Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad to make the general public want one.

The iWatch has the potential to bridge the congnative gap that we are being told exists, wherein people worry about consumer squeamishness about wearing a computer on their face. People know what wearing a watch is about. Nobody stares at people who wear watches. If the Apple iWatch is designed correctly, then once again Apple will convince the general public that they want/need wearable computing and it will be the gateway to products like Glass.

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