A Prescription for Snap’s Spectacles

Others have used and closeted Snap’s Spectacles; I was determined to diagnose them in a different lens

Many techies know very well the feeling of wanting a new device or jumping into a mailing list to try a new service. Caution thrown to the edge of the universe just long enough to hope the gravity of your attention might make it the next big thing. I’m no different. Though, I do my best to render a decent lens amongst tech’s nebulous pulls. I am always intrigued by what these new offerings might add or take away. And with such thoughts, it takes a while for me to be convinced to try some things — and for others I’ll jump quickly.

Snap Spectacles and Bragi Dash

Snap’s Spectacles were a slower burn. I wear glasses, and don’t particularly care for a camera everywhere. Yet, I could not pull away from the framing a camera and social moments between various groups in the USA over the last year, and a situation to myself personally. These intense social moments kept the value of a portable memory-lens near my thoughts. I figured around some point Snap’s Spectacles would be a decent trial for a very specific application — an eye-level dashboard camera. Given my newly acquired MX-5 Miata, this was a good idea which only needed the satellites of prescription lenses. In wearing them, I have found a few more moons around the orbits of this thing we call social media.

A Very Specific Plan

My plan was mostly simple. I went through as many reviews of Google Glass and Snap Spectacles I could find. I noted positives, negatives, and more specifically the contexts in which they were evaluated. And then I also looked for a vendor who’d be able to take my prescription and create lenses for Spectacles. I found the latter through a simple search (GlassesUSA), but did linger for weeks as to what direction I would go with lenses. There’s a bit of a budget number I put towards these experiements, and I didn’t want to be in a moment where I paid for the glasses and 2–3x more for lenses and ended up not wearing them, nor being able to gift them to someone who would garner better use.

A little bit about GlassesUSA and the ordering process: I was actually quite pleased with the quality of offerings for lenses, lens types, and service direction for the lenses. If you know what you want, and know how much you want to spend, it’s a less than five minute process to figure out lenses for Spectacles or any other type of glasses.

Gold mirror prescription lenses via GlassesUSA

What I probably appreciate the best was that I could go through the process several times without actually placing an order; making it easy for me to figure out how I wanted to coordinate lenses with the specific color of Spectacles that I ordered. Putting the lenses into the frame proved to be a minor challenge, made a little bit easier due to the well-explained YouTube video where the instructions were found. For a glasses company to use YouTube to explain how to put new lenses in seems like a small thing, but it speaks to the personal nature of that industry. A few months in and the only complaint I have is that my fingerprints get on the lenses too much.

Augmenting Your Memory Not Your Eyes

There really isn’t much to using these. You put them on, and go about your business. When you see something you’d like to take a picture of, or really a short 10 second video clip, you press the button on the left arm and then wait for the white LED blinking in the corner of your eye to turn off. That’s it. Now, if my mobile is on my person, I will get a notification that a new snap has uploaded. But usually I’ll get a notification on my wrist.

Part of what we understand with photography, specifically mobile phone photography, is it’s availability at a point where we want to be inspired, or just as we have been inspired by something else (one of those unique characteristics of mobile brought up by Tomi Ahonen). What I’ve noticed since using Spectacles has been an extension of that very impulse. Not so much that my eyes are actually being extended, but my memory is. The things that I am taking snaps of are not items that I care to forget, but they’re also not items easily remembered.

With the exception of some extended periods (more than 8hrs kind of extended periods), the weight nor frame texture did not matter to me. The weight is noticeable initially, but falls away quickly. What doesn’t fall away so quickly is the noticing of something being in your peripheral vision on both eyes. The camera, on the right side, and the control mechanism on the left side, do sit in a piece of your vision. It’s only noticeable when it is, otherwise it just falls away. The fact that the LED sits at the left side in that same space does help things. However, on very sunny days I’ve not even paid attention to whether it was flashing at me or not.

There is a battery to these things. One of the things I didn’t expect, mainly because the technology disappeared and I just use them as regular sunglasses, was getting a notification that I had to charge battery from the Snap app. The case they come in is very colorful. And though it uses USB on one end to charge, the connector on the other is proprietary to Spectacles. Thankfully the connector fits both on the case and the glasses meaning that I don’t have to carry the case unless I think the glasses need to be protected when not being used.

What also might not be so noticeable, is Spectacles does not take stills. Everything it does is video; 10, 20, or 30 seconds at a time. If you want to take the longer videos, you need to double press the capture button and then it will go ahead and take the longer 20–30 second frame. Unfortunately, when those videos are uploaded to the Snap app, they are uploaded at 10 second segments. That means for some of those nice scenes where you want a longer view, they will be broken up into two or three videos. Two or three circular videos. Videos are captured neither in portrait or landscape, but a specific circular format. Friends and family have found the format quite enjoyable, probably due to novelty more than what it allows you to see within the Snap app.

See a few videos in my Flickr gallery

Charging in the case; the ring of light is a conversation piece

To this point, the perception about Snap’s Spectacles can be a bit misunderstood. With Google Glass, it was about an extension to your eyes allowing interactions to a digital slices in the world around you. With Spectacles it’s about allowing your eyes to let somebody else into a perspective of your world. This can end up being a more powerful communication agent; or simply another way to brag about very cool trips and ways you turn your life upside down.

Truly Social (Impacting) Media

I’ve discovered a more socially impactful reason for using Spectacles, and it came from using them in the initial slot as a replacement for a dash cam. A situation during the summer of 2016 had me looking at putting a dash cam into my new car. It made a lot of sense being in an area where persons who are my complexion and/or gender tend to be pointed out for social miscues a little more often than others. For the most part, I kept that reasoning to myself. And then one day, someone else pulled it out:

I think it’s safe to say we have all understood the power of live video to bring to light some of the injustices many minorities have encountered, and have been a part of the cultural narrative for many generations. Some of the commentary around equipping law-enforcement with cameras makes sense in this light. If the audio and video collected stays in a publicly accessible area, with little to no editing by governing or law-enforcement agencies, the power of democracy or at least attention from the media in a republic, would enable these justice mishaps to be corrected.

At the same time, we see from the popularity of dash cam videos from Russia and other places that a personal perspective to road events brings a deeper level of attention not only to an entertainment — focused world, but also one who’s looking for specific points of injustice. What if the addition of Spectacles for me becomes the same kind of focus point? If you will, with me having my camera at the ready, instances of injustice, or encounters with law-enforcement, causes me to be put under the same microscope they would be under? What if having such a camera at the ready, makes me now just as responsible for enforcing justice as it is those persons to whom we have given the ability to execute it?

In the Washington DC/Baltimore area, it’s very common to find everything from body cameras to speed cameras. Wearing Spectacles has given me a different perspective, a less-neutral one, on surveillance here. While there are many people who understand my use of Spectacles (the kids who recognize the glasses quickly are amazing), the fact that I am not a uniformed, law-enforcement professional who was compelled to wear it challenges some. That it is a camera that is easily hidden (pockets and the playful case notwithstanding), postures those who don’t understand “take a picture at the moment of inspiration” in an adversarial place. They very much understand using Snap(chat), but not when it is so close to something that is so invisible — a pair a of glasses.

When Computing Becomes Invisible

And this, I think, summarizes not only what Snap is (co)inventing, but also where computing and social spaces eventually will go: in order for technology to truly be empowering, it will (must?) become invisible.

However, when it becomes invisible, the perspective of who it’s best for can be even better hidden. At times, this works to my advantage. I very much enjoy taking photos of sunsets, mountain driving, or places outside of tourism spots where pulling out my phone feels awkward. At the same time, the use of Spectacles, something more invisible than wireless headphones, portends a world where if you have augmented eyes, then you also have a memory which can be used for or against you. Spectacles points to a world where computing becomes invisible. It is great to see life through another’s eyes, yet there’s always going to be as much behind the lens as there is in front of it.

Snap Spectacles are available via their website; prescription lenses via GlassesUSA.

And if you want to follow this experiment (I’m calling #snapchatweekend), feel free to connect with me via Snap.

Follow me on Snap

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