Dear Google Glass, Moms Like Technology Too

So why aren’t you marketing to them?  


Rebecca Soffer and her son, Noah, picking up their new Google Glass at Basecamp this spring.

Like many East Coasters, this past spring I slowly came to my senses after being relentlessly pummeled by an unforgiving winter.

But those winter months were rough for other reasons: in November of last year, my co-founder, Gabi Birkner, and I were a combined 14 months pregnant (me: eight, Gabi: six). Just before Thanksgiving we launched our other baby, Modern Loss, a website dealing with loss and grief in the modern era, offering candid original essays, resources and other much-needed tools to open up the conversation about this still-taboo subject.

One month later, I gave birth to my first baby, Noah. As the kids say, NBD.

The main casualty, courtesy of this adorable little game changer (besides my sanity)? My hands! Suddenly they were diapering, breastfeeding, washing, bathing, dressing, tapping “order” on multiple Seamless meals per week, and hovering over the baby’s nostrils in the wee hours to make sure he was still breathing.

Just two founders launching a company. Gabi Birkner & Rebecca Soffer, December 2013.

Gabi had her own baby six weeks later (she’d been flying solo at work while I was out), and I returned just as the site was quickly gaining traction. From personal experience, we knew we had a huge potential audience out there, and our inboxes were exploding. In addition to all those aforementioned baby tasks, the presence of my hands was cordially yet urgently requested to field pitches, edit stories, email funders, create artwork, take notes during phone calls, manage our CMS, cover social media, and answer months’ worth of emails.

Since I was primarily breastfeeding, my plan was to work from home, using my laptop and iPhone (“Babies sleep a lot! He can’t move around so much yet!” I’d told myself, in some wildly optimistic assumptions). I quickly realized the joke was on me (and assume any parents reading this are already laughing out loud). The reality: My hands were flat-out unavailable for these duties most of the time.

I should mention I’ve got a pretty wonderful husband who gives about a billion percent to our relationship and his new role as Dad. But he wasn’t sitting next to me at home every second of the day. I wasn’t missing a partner. I just missed having hands.

That changed in April, when my good friends Rachel Sklar and Glynnis MacNicol of TheLi.st offered me my own pair of Google Glass, bought and paid for courtesy of a grant they’d won from Ruth Ann Harnisch. There had been plenty of coverage about how techies and entrepreneurs could use Glass (even in the shower, apparently), but little on what Glass could do for new mothers, who vaguely remembered what a shower was — and nothing on its potential for new moms who also happened to be entrepreneurs.

I wasn’t missing a partner. I just missed having hands.

A few weeks and a $1633.12 grant later, Noah and I headed home from Google Glass Basecamp with our new toy.

Noah Soffer, Glass Explorer.

Now, if you look up the phrase “early technology adopter,” it will most definitely not read, “see Rebecca Soffer.” I was dubious as to how a thingamajiggy still in its testing phase could simplify my increasingly complicated life, where the work and personal lines were blurring so quickly that I needed to move seamlessly between the two at a moment’s notice. I wondered if this tool, which I’d mostly seen worn around Madison Square Park by painfully on-trend tech hipsters, could help me uptown in my off-trend sweatpants as I attempted to do meaningful work.

But early the next morning, at around 2 am, I was up with Noah doing my usual feed in the dark when my iPhone glowed with a notification from across the room — and there I was, trapped in my nursing chair. It was way too far for my arms to reach, even if I had arms available. But then I heard a gentle ping in my right ear. I’d forgotten I was wearing my Glass (people, it was 2 am). An email hovered right above my eye and a foot above my peacefully zoned-out baby. Oh, wow. This could change EVERYTHING.

And with that, Noah and I were off and running with Glass (ok, we were mostly sitting, but it was the beginning of an adventure).

The author’s typical workstation. Pic taken #ThroughGlass. (Ugh, that hashtag.)

In my experience since, I’ve realized Glass is mainly for basic output: Those quick email replies that you don’t mind contain the occasional weird typos. Specific questions for a Google search. Brief social media updates. Quickly checking your calendar as you wash bottles to make sure your babysitter is scheduled before you set an important meeting.

As of yet, it certainly doesn’t replace my beloved smartphone or trusty laptop. Its features are limited, sometimes buggy and oftentimes downright frustrating. But it adds a nice third flank that is quickly becoming more useful — and it sure as heck makes it a lot easier to exist when neither is in reach. I feel a bit like an idiot pushing the stroller in Riverside Park wearing Glass. But it’s neat that work isn’t keeping me from the walk, and the walk isn’t keeping me from work.

(I do want to point out that my baby normally requires 1000% of my attention, and I happily give it to him. You can’t multitask things that aren’t meant to be multitasked, especially when you’re doing them for the first time. But I can do laundry, dishes and some other baby-related tasks while feeling like I’m also pushing my other work along.)

Here are some takeaways from my time as an Explorer (as Google calls the initial Glass users, intrepid bunch that we are). And I kind of do consider myself one; it’s not like “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” has a chapter on this stuff.

Capturing your kid’s moments is stupidly easy. This feature seems tailor-made for new parents. If I wink, I take a picture of Noah smiling in the Jumperoo. If I say “record a video,” I’ve captured him successfully inserting his feet into his mouth for the first time. As you can imagine, this cancels out the whole “Wait honey, let me get the camera!” scramble. And it’s AWESOME.

Receiving email is more seamless than sending it. I see a lot of typos in my voice-dictated messages. Don’t get me wrong; it’s helpful to have this tool, especially since my hands are tied up pumping several times a day. And I think it will only improve in the future. But I save the critical emails for my computer. Case in point: the other night I told Glass to send my husband, Justin, a cute shot of the baby drinking a bottle with our labradoodle looking on. But Glass proceeded to send it to my friend, Josh Gondelman — apparently, it does not recognize the frantic command “NONONONOnonooooo…I said JUSTIN!” Luckily, Josh thought the photo was pretty adorable.

Receiving emails, on the other hand, is great. While I can’t open attachments on Glass, I can ask our site’s contributors to paste their essays in the text box and give them a first pass wherever I am. Boom.

In the early postpartum days I’d have paid serious money to have breastfeeding support on Glassware. Where’s that one? My brilliant idea is an in-Glass baby monitor. Let me know when that’s ready.

Google is best for specific searches. I can’t bring myself to sing the praises of searching the web on Glass. It’s a clunky process that currently involves way too many finger and head movements. (Think Fred Armisen on SNL.) I’d benefit from being able to check out my website and monitor our traffic. But if you know exactly what to search for — say, what is a scary baby fever level (around 102.5 F), what are the lyrics to the second verse of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” or why on Earth does my pumped breast milk have a mint green tint (answer: I was eating a lot of kale that week) — it’s a lifesaver. Especially while bouncing the baby on a BOSU ball for a really, really, really long time.

Getting directions is fun! I recently took the baby to a meeting. He was in the stroller, thus requiring both hands, so I looked up the address on Glass. Remember Joey from “Friends” stepping into the map? That’s how I do it. And that’s what you do with Glass. Just follow the navigation line. If you deviate from the path, it corrects you immediately. The downside: we might become lemmings if we end up relying too much on this tool and forget how to use our brains to get places.

The Glassware apps are OK but could be so much better. I was so excited to try out the various available Glassware (basically, apps for Glass). Granted, there are some cool programs out there. In addition to Twitter, Facebook and Google Hangouts, I’ve enjoyed the CNN updates, Allthecooks recipes and the translation tool, Duolingo (I’d enjoy OpenTable if I were going out to dinner but let’s be honest…I’m not). And I’m super jazzed to try Star Chart, which explains the night sky to you as you gaze up at it. But unless you love golf, zombies or Jews, if you’re a working new mother you’ll probably say “meh” when perusing the current options.

Another typical workstation. Note errant flip-flop. Pic taken via computer worn on the author’s face.

In the early postpartum days I’d have paid serious money to have breastfeeding support on Glassware. Where’s that one? And it would be fantastic to use Google Analytics to monitor my site’s traffic. My brilliant idea is an in-Glass baby monitor. Let me know when that’s ready.

Phone calls are (kind of) easy. Often I literally don’t have a free hand to reach for my phone. When I’m wearing Glass I can answer or make a call hands-free to brainstorm the editorial calendar with Gabi as I fold tiny pieces of laundry. However, volume is an issue. And it would be great to have a noise cancellation feature in the earbud. Like, for when the baby is chatting up a storm and I’m speaking to our developer or doing an interview.

It’s good for simple social media posts (if you don’t mind the hashtag). I manage Modern Loss’ Facebook and Twitter accounts. When I can’t get to my other devices, I can use the Glassware for those tools by saying the magic words “OK Glass!” and directing it to dictate quick, simple posts. (An admitted downside: I rarely do this because posts include the #throughglass hashtag. It’s better for personal social accounts.)

Apple devotees are limited. I have an iPhone. This means that while I can receive texts on Glass, I can’t send them. That neat feature is reserved strictly for Android users, while Apple users are forced to send those messages as Hangouts (and who’s checking those regularly?!) Shouldn’t everyone who paid $1600 for a high-tech toy be able to fully utilize all its features? C’mon Sergey. Don’t be evil.

Wear it publicly at your own risk. I admit it: When I showed up at an infant music class sheepishly wearing Glass to receive an important call, my fellow new mamas seemed less than thrilled. Their looks clearly conveyed a sense of, “Um, who is this and is she recording my child?” I assure you I wasn’t. But can’t say I blame them for wondering. There’s a reason for the nickname “Glassholes” and I don’t want to be one. I’ve since kept my usage to indoor activities.

Would I recommend Glass? Well, it’s got amazing potential but oh-so-far to go. And, it’s really expensive ($1600 buys a lot of diapers). And the technology is clunky. And it seems to hate me for using Apple products.

Do I wish Glass would cater more to new mothers (to me, one of the most obvious groups who could benefit from it)? Duh. Do I wish it would think of entrepreneurs as being outside the Bonobos-wearing population? Yes, please.

But if you value time, free hands and can take the financial plunge, jump in. It’s been fantastic to access part of my life above my right eye with a new baby around. And I’ve got to believe Google wants to make this the best device it can be, and that feedback from users like me can nudge that process forward.

So, Google and Glass developers dreaming up new consumer tools: please keep the new mamas, papas, and other caregivers in mind so this device can truly own up to its game-changer promise. And to those new mamas who can, come and join me on this crazy, milk-stained, hands-free (!) ride.

Rebecca Soffer is Co-founder and CEO of ModernLoss.com. She was previously a producer for “The Colbert Report” and is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Thanks to TheLi.st for making this possible.