Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A glassy-eyed audience eyes up Glass

Resistance is futile: Washed and Ready to Eat's Phil Woodford models Google Glass

Google Glass might as well be rebranded Google Gold Dust.

Attending a masterclass in London sponsored by The Guardian newspaper, I soon discovered that the sexiest wearable tech in the world isn’t available to everyone. The duo hosting the show on 3rd June – video production experts Michael Rosenblum and Lisa Lambden – had got hold of their own device from a nephew’s colleague’s roommate.

A couple of the participants had somehow got hold of their own Glasses too.

Glasses? I have a hunch that the plural of Glass may actually turn out to be Glass.

Anyway, one of the owners, who seemed to be connected to the UN and was responsible for protecting rhinos or something, wore his set throughout the session. If he’d let go of his x-ray specs, he’d probably never have seen them again, so desperate was everyone to get a selfie of themselves wearing them. My suspicion was that most people there already knew very well what Glass was all about, but wanted to see the bloody thing in real life and show off to their friends on Facebook and Instagram. That was certainly my own motivation.

Rosenblum, a bullish New Yorker with a sense of the theatrical, told us he was taking us back 500 years in time. He then informed us that we were back in the 15th century. I’d had a glass of wine courtesy of The Guardian, so could easily have quibbled with his maths, but because I’d had a glass of wine, I wasn’t so confident of my own. He was talking about Gutenberg and the printing press and Martin Luther and the reformation. And apparently live streaming from Glass is on a par with all of this medieval stuff.

Someone from the audience pointed out that most of the functionality of Glass is already there in smartphones. It was certainly true that when Rosenblum showed us a video in which he wandered the streets of NYC, it was very much, ‘Glass, take a picture’ and ‘Glass, take a video’. And some of us were like yeah, yeah, right, whatever – thinking that we can do all this with our iPhone without jerking our heads in strange ways. And there was a LOT of jerking around, prompting sniggers from those of us who’d been on the Pinot Grigio. Believe me, Glass will not catch on if it makes people look as if they have a neurological condition or are in urgent need of an osteopath.

The fact that it’s less visible than a smartphone is a change, of course. Our tutor had crept into a New York museum with the Glass over his prescription lenses and hadn’t been stopped. His cameraman, on the other hand, was barred from entry.

And this was the picture that was painted of the future. People happily Glassing their way into sporting events and streaming stuff from every imaginable angle. It’s a fundamentally disruptive technology argues Rosenblum, as broadcasters who’ve paid billions for sporting rights will be outmanoeuvred and found that they’ve wasted their money.


Or another scenario is that everyone is stripped of their wearable tech before entering the stadium. Boxes of confiscated Glasses, carefully guarded by TV companies and sponsors.

The broadcasters needn’t worry too much right now anyway, as the battery power of Glass would – according to the hosts – not last long enough to let you stream the second half of a Premier League football match. Which would we prefer, do you think? The full 90 minutes in high definition or 3D on Sky Sports? Or picking up the authentic, live, jerking stream of a Glass enthusiast who runs out of juice in the stadium toilets at half time?

Don’t get me wrong. I think ‘wearable’ is indeed going to be big in the future. And the live streaming capabilities of Glass certainly do have some application in the crowd-sourcing of news reports. But I don’t see that as being a challenge to properly edited and curated content of the type produced and distributed by TV networks currently. The two things will quite happily co-exist. Radio never disappeared because TV came along.

The discussion started to drift towards privacy issues and so-called 'Glassholes', who might choose to abuse the technology. One participant ventured that people would be using jamming equipment soon to stop people spying on them covertly using Glass.

Lisa, a Brit (who was a little more sanguine about the technology than her enthusiastic American partner), revealed that she’d recently been in a New York cab in which the driver was Glassed up. If he’d been videoing people in the street as he drove, they’d have been none the wiser.

I started to think of London cabbies equipped with the technology.

"Where was that, guv? Glass, can you give me directions to North of the river?"

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