For society to accept Google Glass, we need more wearers

Right now, only a few thousand people have Google Glass. That's not nearly enough for people to start making real decisions about how they feel about it.

Probably the most fascinating thing about Google Glass is the fact it’s pushing at the very edges of what we consider acceptable as a society. Glass exists in an interestingly Quantum state – we have no easy way of knowing if the person wearing it is using it, or taking photos, or recording video.

Up until now, we’ve generally had a clearer sense of whether people are using mobiles for those sorts of purposes – although the existence of creep shot culture shows that that isn’t as clear as we might think.

Scoble turns Glass skeptic

It’s in this context that Robert Scoble’s recent Facebook post on Glass makes for interesting reading:

Last night before Skrillex at Coachella came on two guys were talking next to me. One said “I want to get away from the Google Glass guys.”
I turn around and there are two guys wearing Glass.

Google does have a problem here.

And it clearly does. Scoble – who spoke at last year’s NEXT and freely allowed his Glass to be used by others – catches a key point: the social reaction to Glass, outside the tech bubble, has been unease. Why? Well, most of us have never experienced it, or only seen it from a distance on one of the few people who actually do have it. Ownership of Glass is still extremely limited.

As Fast Company put it:

But for all the useful stuff Glass might legitimately prove useful for, the technology in its current form can’t seem to shake its Glasshole vibe. As it stands, Glass is today’s equivalent of a scarlet letter, a $1,500 emblem of all the resentment harbored toward Silicon Valley. As USC journalism professor and technology critic Robert Hernandez put it to Fast Company recently, “Whenever I put on Glass, I’m essentially opting in to answering a lot of questions.”

As rare as Glass

The head of marketing for Glass puts the tension down to the lack of availability of Glass:

“We suffer for the fact that Glass isn’t widely available, which was a deliberate choice,” he says. “It’s fair to say the best way to change perceptions about the device is to put it on, but we haven’t been able to do that due to the sheer number of devices. When you put it on, misperceptions really do disappear.”

It’s a fair point: we actually have two issues at work here:

  • Resentment of the tech elite
  • Discomfort with the tech itself

We’re not going to have any clear sense of how significant the latter is until the former ceases to be an issue. And we don’t know when that will be just yet. But the wait for it to happen is holding back the natural social process of what is acceptable – or not – with these kinds of devices. It’s not a quick process, as our adaptation to mobile phones shows. We’re still figuring that one out – is it OK to use a mobile while driving? The consensus – in theory, if not in practice – is “no”. We’re finally figuring out that interrupting a face-to-face conversation to answer the phone is only acceptable if the call is important, although we’re still struggling to define that importance.

We’ll go through the same process with Glass over time – if it succeeds as a product. But until more than a few thousand people have access, there just isn’t the critical mass for society to start making those decisions.

Are you a Glass wearer?

Talking of a critical mass of Glass users, we’re due to have nearly a dozen of them at NEXT Berlin in just over a week. Are you a Glass wearer and interested in joining them? Get in contact with us ASAP.