Google Glass is a new1, wearable technology that incorporates a screen, microphone, and camera into a glasses-like form factor. Most2 of what I’ve read about it so far as been fairly negative with comments ranging from how bad you’ll look wearing them to how much of an invasion of privacy it is when people can take your picture at any time without them noticing. In his typically outrageous manner, Ben Brooks has even suggested outlawing them.

Unfortunately, these complaints, while at least partially valid, are also myopic.3 Fashion is fickle and their design can change; cellphones, spy cameras, and digital SLRs with telephoto lenses got rid of privacy long ago; and, Ben, taking photos of people without their permission in public is perfectly legal. Yeah, even if it’s of your kid.4 They also seem to overlook or have no image about how useful they could be.

What interests me about Google Glass is not how it might be used in social situations5, and the accompanying norms it may violate, but how this could be used as a tool, an extension of one’s self.

  • I imagine a rescue worker being able to view and tag dangerous situations in some wreckage, while leaving their hands free or perhaps easily and quickly taking images of an injured survivor that could be uploaded and reviewed at the central medical center so that preparations could be made before the patient even arrives.
  • I imagine a doctor doing a procedure being able to monitor an ultrasound image or telemetry while not taking his eyes off the patient.
  • I imagine being about to keep a menu or manual right in my field of vision while cooking or fixing the car, without awkwardly perching it somewhere not quite easy to see and not quite out of the danger zone.
  • I imagine that every time I looked at a document containing the words of some diagnosis, Glass would automatically search for the ICD-10 code and if I happened to need it, I could quickly glance up at the screen.
  • I imagine seeing a patient and when I start talking about the treatment, Glass connects to my electronic chart to look up their insurance coverage and list in my field of vision which medication is covered so I can continue explaining the treatment uninterrupted.

My first thought when hearing about Glass was how useful this would be for parents of infants. One mother already wrote about how useful it is6.

Sure, I can’t imaging people wearing these all the time in every social situation7, but who said you had to?8 I may never wear it while at a restaurant or a party, but who cares if I look dorky while walking around my own house? I don’t wear my pajamas outside either. While most agree that bluetooth headsets are dorky, it’s not the same when wearer is the receptionist sitting at the desk of your local law office or clinic answering phones all day. In that same situation, I can imagine the practice management software being able to identify the person checking in, pull up her chart, take a picture of the patient’s new insurance card and upload it to the billing software, while leaving the receptionist’s hands free for other things.

Social norms may have to adapt or may have to be more strongly reiterated to put those who would abuse this, or any, technology9, but if we can get past the idea of this being a social device and start to look at it more as a tool, suddenly, this technology seems a lot more interesting.

I have no prediction as to the business success of Glass and the functionality will greatly depend on how good the software is. Google has already let me down enough times that I’m cautious. But I am curious.

  1. Not even publicly purchasable. 

  2. Scoble doesn’t count. 

  3. No pun intended. 

  4. Not to mention, if someone really wants to get inappropriate photos of people, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to just Google it. 

  5. From the technocrati’s reaction to GG, it seems all anyone does in Silicon Valley is go to parties and the bathroom. 

  6. Apologies, but I can’t find the link now. 

  7. Except for a few, strange outliers, but isn’t this always the case? 

  8. At least for now. Who knows how social norms will change in the future. Maybe like bluetooth headsets it will always be gauche, or maybe it will come to be the norm. 

  9. Scoble is never invited to my house.