Through the Looking Glass … or the Google Glass?
25 June 2014

by tmartin on June 25, 2014

IT SEEMED A BIT LIKE AN APRIL FOOLS joke two years ago — but on April 4 2012 Google wasn’t kidding. It really planned a wearable interface with the world. (http://www.capeeyes.com/2012/04/googleglass/)

Back in that time of ancient history, the original the concept video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9c6W4CCU9M4_ ) quickly spawned multiple spoofs, but laugh as we might the idea didn’t go away.

We still laugh – John Stewart’s Daily Show just brought up the latest spoof (http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/w95a3v/glass-half-empty) — but Glass has undeniably rooted.

In the past few months, the idea seems to have hit a certain level of psychological traction as the numbers of Glass in the wild multiplies and, as of this week, has even begun to spread beyond the US borders with the first UK shipments.

From a bar bashing episode between a Glass-wearing techie and locals in San Francisco — a moment that encapsulated that that city’s tension between town and chip — to last week’s ban on the devices by a small movie house chain, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas in Texas and five other states, the wearable interface to the world keeps stirring up all our emotions of hope and fear of the sci-fi like future.

State legislators in eight states, reacting with some mix of fear, panic, and ignorance (reminds one a bit of the Queen of Hearts shouting an irrational “off with her head”), have leapt ahead of adoption and put into play legislation to ban something that isn’t even on the market. Illinois, Delaware, Missouri, New York, Maryland, West Virginia, Wyoming, and New Jersey (which in March also banned sales of the hip hot sexy electric car Tesla) stand ready to protect us from … wearable devices.

OK, if you aren’t a follower of all things tech you might asking about now, What exactly *is* this Glass thing of which you speak?

In fancy pants words, it is an “augmented reality wearable computer with a head-mounted display.”

In more common speak, Google created a tiny smart phone in a tiny projected screen that you wear as if it were a pair of eyeglasses. It responds to voice, eye, and finger touch commands.

Google took the beta version of this device into the market through the “Explorer” program. Potential Google Explorers got an invite (yes, I got one) to hand over $1,500 for their own Glass (no, I didn’t!) and the chance to among the first to kick the metaphorical tires on this new way to interact with the world.

Glass comes in your choice of color – charcoal, tangerine, shale, cotton and sky. A company called GPOP (http://gpop.us/collections/home) makes skins for the device – i.e., vinyl stickers that add patterns and designs, in options like “Dawn,” “Gears Up,” “Futball,” “Metallic,” “Pixel,” “Rhinestones,” and many more.

Explorers come in all flavors too: software developers, hardware gurus, educators, doctors, musicians, and the geekily curious. Before the larger Explorer invite phase, Google kicked off the first release with a competition in which just 8,000 lucky winners got the chance to pay $1,500 to be the very very first Glass wearers.

Through Twitter and Google+ 50-word #ifihadglass entries, Google picked the first crop of super early adopters a little over a year ago, in late March 2013. Subsequent waves of invitations eventually led to a more general opening of the program in May 2014. Many thousands of Glass wearers now roam the land.

The Glass Explorer club forms a fascinating sub-culture in digerati-ville, where we may … or may not … be seeing tomorrow today.

Google encourages Explorers to use Glass, develop for Glass, share Glass with those around them, talk about Glass, and post their stories online (http://www.google.com/glass/start/explorer-stories/) Google embraced classic trend-setter marketing to evangelize something no one quite knew what to do with.

And so now, a year and counting under its belt, how might you use this new way of wearing the world’s data? What have Explorers explored?

The ideas just keep popping up all over. The New York Times earlier this month reported on operating room and surgical tools, offering up orthopedic surgeon Dr. Selene Parekh at Duke Medical Center in Durham NC who records and archives his surgeries with Glass as a way to train orthopedic surgeons in India, where surgical techniques for this type of surgery lag behind Parekh’s state of the art work.

Another surgeon, cardiologist Dr. Pierre Theodore at the University of California, uses his Glass to keep scans and X-rays in a hands-free, available-at-a-glance field of view while operating.

Not surprisingly, a new association of health care professionals recently formed and plans its first conference on the future of wearable technology in health care in July (http://www.watch-society.com)

And speaking of The New York Times, if you have Google Glass you can just tap away there to get news alerts from the Grey Lady herself. Just sign up via this convenient NYT Google Glass page: http://www.nytimes.com/googleglass

Schools keep eyeing the device as well. Kathy Schrock, a K-12 technology expert who serves on the board of International Society for Technology in Education and just happens to call Cape Cod home base, is another Google Explorer who has been, well, exploring what a wearable computer can bring to the classroom.

Her Glass in Class page (http://www.schrockguide.net/google-glass-in-class.html) features dozens of resources, ideas, links, and how-tos for the very bleeding edge educator.

One of the most talked about applications may very well be the “virtual field trip.”

Last year, Google sent Michigan teacher (& Glass Explorer) Andrew Vanden Heuvel to Switzerland, where he taught a class and led a tour of the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) In his STEMbites (https://www.youtube.com/user/STEMbite) he uses his teacher-eye-view to post a series of science class teaching vidoes recorded via Glass.

The global hastag #glassedexplorers links together those intrepid types reporting back on their own uses of Glass for education. Let me just say a lot of teachers seem to be having a lot of fun finding new ways of storytelling with a tool that turns heads.

Developer Vince Jordan, in Longmont Colorado, has been exploring business applications of Glass. He’ll be doing a Livecast on behalf of a development company that wants to share the behind-closed-walls demolition of a mall / beginning of a new era in a different first person point of view. He’s also been looking at ways Glass can become a valuable field repair tool, letting technicians share troubleshooting challenges with an expert who can see what they see and guide them through a repair from the technician’s viewpoint.

Meanwhile, new apps pop up daily in this month’s wild west of app development. The unofficial app store Glass-apps.org had just 11 options two months ago … now swelled to well over 70 as of this typing and who knows how many tomorrow (http://glass-apps.org/googl-glass-application-list)

Some spin goofy, like the Glass Meme Generator. Others pander to the worst, like the piggish and quasi porno app *its and Glass (This is the type of use that sends people to their legislators and legislators to their committees and makes us all wonder what-the-heck of any value this technology brings us.)

Yet other apps offer hints of what helpful uses could come, tools that suggest ways that Glass really could make a difference in the real world – apps like Word Lens for Glass, that translates printed words in real time (see a sign in German, read it in your own language) or Glassentation and Speechmaker, which let you send your PowerPoint and speaker notes to Glass, giving your presentation toolkit a boost.

Meanwhile, fashionistas shouldn’t despair. Yeah, the beta Glass edition looks a bit, uhm, geeky, despite the color options and skins. But help is on the way.

In other news this week, design house Diane von Furstenberg said it had teamed with Google Inc. to launch a line of designer frames, sort of Glass with panache.

The frames, available for sale at online fashion retailer Net A Porter aka “The world’s premier online luxury fashion destination”, (http://www.net-a-porter.com/us/en/d/Designers/DVF_MADE_FOR_GLASS) let us embrace both “elegant frames” and “cutting-edge technology.” No need to be a dweeb!

A few months ago, I finally had a chance to give Glass a try. I was, I confess, dubious. Not a believer.

To my surprise, touching the side of the glasses frame created a surprisingly intuitive interface. Glass understood my spoken commands better than Siri does. It was lightweight, not uncomfortable, even balanced over my more traditional use-them-to-see glasses.

As I kept reaching up to use Glass hours after it had left my head, I couldn’t help but wonder …

The Internet changed our sense of time and geography.

The smartphone and tablet changed our sense of location and motion.

Could it be that Glass – or another wearable – might just change our sense of it and us? Break through the wall between virtual and real?

With a possible future seen through Google-colored glass, we stand at the edge of a looking glass moment, a point in time where fact and fiction blend into something unanticipated.

Afterall, where the Explorers go, everyone eventually follows. At least that’s what Google hopes.

I’m curious to see what I’ll be writing two years from now — and if I’ll be fact checking in my Glass or if we’ll all be chuckling about the wearable trend that wasn’t.

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