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BW Businessworld

Raising A Glass To Glass

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It doesn’t seem that long ago when we were cringing at images of Robert Scobble wearing his Google Glass in the shower, apparently unable to set it aside even for a bath, entirely sure he couldn’t live without this super-wearable even for a day ever again. Well, he certainly changed his mind. And so, it would seem, has Google. Or at least that’s what all the headlines about the glass having cracked or being in pieces seem to indicate. Frankly, Google Glass was a project – and projects end. It was an experiment and as far as experiments go, much was learned from it in the almost three years since it began. For all those writing Goodbye Glass obits, let’s remember that this was never a mass consumer product in the first place.

As a piece of hardware, Google Glass was only gradually made available to those willing to test it out. It’s too bad that they had to pay a hefty $1,500 for the privilege, but then when you have a limited number of something, it costs. Pretty soon, Google Glass won’t be available for love or money and those who already have a set of the dork-wear won’t get updates or support, though many may figure out hacking it and continuing to use it regardless. If there wasn’t a risk to buying something untested, there wouldn’t be “early adopters”. Everyone would just go get it, if they had the money. Saying goodbye goes with the early adopter territory, if you ask me.

Google Glass had its skeptics — most of the world, in fact — right from the start. But that was no reason not to try it. There’s a certain logic to putting a wearable up on your face where you have to make little effort to look rather than on a phone which you need to pull out, perhaps losing the moment, or on your wrist where your gaze must shift away from what you’re doing. With Google Glass, it was an overlay of virtual over physical and anyone using it didn’t have to stop what they were doing. A surgeon didn’t need to look away from his operation if he needed to check something — Google Glass could have overlaid the information. A dad didn’t need to look for his camera to take a picture of his cute girl doing something adorable. The moment could be captured, if somewhat crudely, with Glass. At the same time, there have been no end of problems with wearing Google Glass where it is always in a position to distract. And when it’s on you, nobody else is quite comfortable because they’re not sure what you’re up to, specially with the camera. It feels like someone’s always holding up a camera at the ready, finger on the shutter button — and that’s what it is. There’s also the distinctly uncomfortable aura of the wearer’s attention being half somewhere else. Of course, that will be disconcerting and annoying. Any wonder there was such a backlash against Glass and their wearers, “Glassholes”.

Whatever has happened with Google Glass is a lesson for all wearables that are being so frantically hyped today. There are fantastic use cases, particularly in certain occupations and industries,  but pausing to take a breath and figure out how to get around the problems is the need of the hour, before an avalanche of wearable products hits us. Privacy concerns are more than justified. We can violate privacy in a million ways without the help of Google Glass — and we do — but with a Glass like product, it just becomes easier and more readily part of everyday life. Before that goes out of hand, it’s time to lay down some rules. There’s also security to think of. Your security could be enhanced when whatever you’re doing and where you are can be transmitted elsewhere in real time, but just as easily, it can be misused to instantly send off information that had no business being shared. If something like Glass were to be mainstream from the start and let loose into the wild with no end in sight, it would eventually go rogue. Instead it’s time to raise a glass to that Glass that showed us how wearables can go in directions we don’t want even while being useful, and to hope for the next thing to come along with some of the problems solved.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 23-02-2015)