Google Glass is for Extroverts
Social dynamics in wearable computing. Bug or feature?
You are in a room full of people.
All eyes are on you.
What will you say?
Everyone wants to know what you think.
How does all the attention make you feel? Is it energizing? Are your spirits boosted? Is the air electric?
Or… Can you feel your energy draining away? Your brain slowing down? The urge to run?
But what is causing this situation?
Could it be the cool little gadget you are wearing on your face?
We will get to the gadget in a minute but first lets talk about why people feel differently about this situation.
Introverts, Extroverts and Ambiverts
Chances are you've been exposed to the differences between introverts and extroverts. You’ve read a book or taken a personality test of some sort. Just in case you haven't I will give you the quick version.
The main difference between the introverts and extroverts is how they gather and spend energy.
Introverts gather energy during time alone and then spend it interacting with others. Too much time spent socially “on” leaves an introvert feeling drained.
Extroverts on the other hand gather energy from others in social settings. If they are left alone for too long their energy will wane and they will crave the recharge that comes from time spent interacting with others and feeding off the positive energy of conversation and collaboration.
Quick side note, my friend Moh’d recently introduced me to a third type, the Ambivert. From what I can tell this is someone who registers very near the midpoint between introvert and extrovert tendencies.
The Best Feature of Google Glass (or is it a bug?)
Have you ever seen a lunar eclipse?
The moon slowly moves in front of the sun until the sun is completely blocked off.
Over the last several months this image has informed my understanding of the value of Google Glass to an introvert or ambivert like me. In my experience, the social dynamics of using Glass eclipse the utility of the product. What I mean by this is that the impact of how people treat you while using Glass actually has a greater impact on your experience then the utility of the product itself. I will address the utility of the product in the next section but for now let’s look at the social dynamics.
If you are an extrovert, Google Glass has a killer feature and that is its ability to draw people to you and start conversations. I've watched my extroverted friend Dan Proczko use the product during technology events and it lights him up, as well as those around him. You can tell he is gaining energy from all the attention and loves it.
For someone closer to the introvert side of the spectrum like myself, wearing Google Glass feels exhausting. Walking down the street where I live in Michigan I can feel eyes on me at all times. I constantly have to explain Google Glass at each social interaction.
“Don’t worry, I’m not recording you.”
“No, its not uncomfortable to wear.”
“Yes, it does kinda make me look like the Borg doesn’t it.”
Even if it didn’t create extra interactions, the social friction that I feel from the passive attention alone is a huge bug in my experience that eclipses the utility and makes me want to avoid wearing the product.
Behind the Moon: The Utility of Google Glass
You probably won’t be reading this unless you already know what Google Glass is and does, but just in case, you can check out the product demos on their site.
I was one of the first Glass Explorers to join the program at Google I/O 2012. I generally don’t rush to judgement so I wanted to spend enough time to get a good picture of the utility of the product. I break the utility into 4 categories. Notifications, Content Capture, Live Interaction, and Third-Party Apps.
The notification “cards” that Glass provides are of very little utility to me personally. I am someone that closely guards the creative space of my mind by trying to minimize trivial interruptions. On my mobile devices almost all of my notifications are turned off with the exception of the most useful or socially relevant. Calendar, SMS and Instagram are examples of those I leave on. Email and Facebook notifications are the ones that I am most happy with my decision to silence. Since I curate notifications so heavily they are low frequency for me and having them closer to my face on Glass vs. on my mobile phone is of very little value.
I had expected video and image capture use cases to provide high value in situations where both my hands are needed, such as cooking, driving or riding a bike. Unfortunately I haven’t found this to be the case. It turns out that the voice interactions that would facilitate hands-free operation are so cumbersome that I usually just capture content with the touchpad on the device which requires the use of a free hand just like my mobile device but lacks the additional control and features that the apps on my mobile device afford. Currently a fail for me, but I’m sure voice control will be iterated and improved over time.
This is the most interesting use case I’ve found for Google Glass. Joining a Hangout with a remote co-worker or friend while wearing Glass is a truly compelling experience. I’ve also seen intriguing use cases for this being explored by others in the Google Glass community. I’m actually quite excited at the idea of Google and others building more software around this use case.
Third-Party Apps (Glassware)
Obviously Glass is designed to be a platform to empower developers to build unique experiences that can’t be achieved on current mobile devices. There are more and more use cases and apps emerging every day and the potential is exciting. A couple of the more interesting apps are:
KitchMe — Turn-by-turn directions for cooking.
YourShow — Control presentations and notes for public speaking.
FieldTrip — Ambient, location-aware information about your environment.
Strava — Exercise tracking
FaceRec — Controversial facial recognition software.
My experience so far…
As an introvert (or maybe an ambivert), my experience with Glass so far has clearly been a mixed bag. However, over time, I am optimistic that the technology will develop to better serve people like me and social norms will adapt to decrease the friction that I experience. In the meantime, if you are an extrovert, I encourage you to get involved with this technology immediately while it still has the potential to draw people to you.
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