The Answer to Google Glass's Perception Problems: Show, Don't Tell
It's official, Google is worried about the public perception of Google Glass -- so much so that it has written and published a list of the "Top 10 Google Glass Myths" in an effort to try to dispel some of the bad PR.
"Myths can be fun, but they can also be confusing or unsettling. And if spoken enough, they can morph into something that resembles fact," began Google's Google+ post seeking to repair the smartglasses' image. "In its relatively short existence, Glass has seen some myths develop around it. While we're flattered by the attention, we thought it might make sense to tackle them, just to clear the air."
Google runs down ten "myths" about Glass, including some mundane items that I've never seen discussed as a shortcoming of the device, but the post also seeks to tackle some of the issues that anyone who's published a critical article about Glass has almost certainly heard about from Google's PR people.
Among the more pedestrian perceptions Google wants to change are:
Myth 4 -- Glass is ready for prime time
Myth 6 -- Glass covers your eye(s)
Myth 7 -- Glass is the perfect surveillance device
Myth 9 -- Glass is banned... EVERYWHERE
Anyone who has written a "Top 10" article knows that sometimes you have to stretch to reach that nice-looking, round number, and it seems some of the "myths" above were intedned to do just that.
Going through those items, like number four, it seems only people that think Glass is ready for primetime are the people who can't wait to use it. Of course, Google wants to make sure people know the current version of Glass is a prototype, but given the relatively few people actually using them, that seems obvious. Also, anyone who has seen a picture of someone wearing Google Glass knows, contrary to "myth" number six, that it doesn't cover your eye completely. And myth nine just seems to be a reaction to the number of "Establishment Bans Google Glass" stories the people love to read.
But some of the myths Google is trying to counter are serious problems for the yet-to-be finalized smartglasses device:
Myth 1 -- Glass is the ultimate distraction from the real world
I put these in ascending order of how damaging these perceptions have been to Google Glass.
I'm with Google's defense on number one. A quick stroll through any public area -- where generally half of the people you see will have headphones in, be looking down at their smartphone, or are otherwise perfectly oblivious to the world around them due to having a computer with them 24/7 -- will show that, if you're worried about the "stop and smell the roses" problem with technology, you've pretty much already lost. At least Glass would allow people to search the internet and text message while walking around, without the need for seeing eye people.
Myth 2 -- Glass is always on and recording everything
Myth 10 -- Glass marks the end of privacy
Myth 5 -- Glass does facial recognition (and other dodgy things)
Myth two and 10 are when you start getting into the contentious, and damaging for Glass, perceptions. Of course Glass is not always on and recording everything -- the battery wouldn't last very long if it were (plus imagine what a waste of storage space day-long recordings would be). But people don't have to believe that myth to be legitimately worried about Google Glass's recording function and its implications for privacy.
Google argues that Glass is just an extension of the smartphone, which already can invade your privacy by capturing audio and video of you. This is true. But you can generally tell when someone is taking video or a picture on their smartphone, because it has to be physically pointed in the direction of the subject of interest. Talking to someone wearing Glass, you realize the camera is always pointed at you, and there's no other indication of whether its recording.
But rather than telling everyone how wrong they are for being worried about this aspect of Glass, Google could solve the problem through a simple design element -- a little front-facing red light, like with camcorders of old -- that indicates when the camera is enabled. This would also instantly dissipate worries about Glass's imagined face recognition (and the other dodgy things from myth five).
Myth 8 -- Glass is only for those privileged enough to afford it
Myth 3 -- Glass Explorers are technology-worshipping geeks
These last two "myths" are Glass's biggest problems with public perception, and it's Google's fault. It's simply a result of Google not thinking through what the public reaction would be to the Glass Explorer program, and those who were selected for it. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but let's take a look at these myths from the perspective of what could have been done differently when Google began looking for beta testers for Glass.
Overall, the Explorer program made a lot of sense: create a social media campaign (points for allowing it on Twitter and not restricting it to Google+) to find people uniquely able to test out the prototype for a next-generation technology. Restrict the beta test to those tech savvy people and people who have interesting ideas on how to use Glass, and only (for the most part) those willing to put $1,500 of their money where their mouth is. This creates publicity for Glass while keeping the availability low, leading to an organic growth in demand for the device and an envious, enthusiastic base of consumers ready and waiting for the release date.
But looking back, the majority of the (almost self-selected) Glass Explorers are not the kind of people that the general public would sympathize with. For one, tech journalists: no one really likes journalists, and trendy 20 to 30-something technology snobs constantly seeking attention for the sake of career and their egos are perhaps the most insufferable, speaking from experience.
Trendy 20 to 30-something people in the tech industry are a similar lot, but add to that a huge salary. From recent events in San Francisco, we know the vast income differences from the general population make tech workers, whether deservedly or not, an unpopular group.
Of course those are not the only people in the Glass Explorer program, but Google could have done better by taking the $1500 hit on a number of devices that could have gone out to far more "regular folks," like teachers, firefighters, kids, postal workers -- you name it. And Google, in arguing against myth eight that some Explorers who couldn't afford it raised money through Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns, isn't helping that case.
Show, Don't Tell
Ultimately, the old writing trope "show, don't tell" should apply to Google's worries over Glass misconceptions and the public's perception of Google's wearable device. Writing a defensive missive against the PR problems you're running into won't make them go away (especially when you post it on the un-public Google+).
Instead, Google should make Glass more accessible to regular people -- either through expanding the Explorer program (at a discount or for free) to a more diverse group of people or through old-fashioned demonstrations. Heck, set up a bunch of kiosks in shopping centers around America, where anyone can pop on a headset for a couple of minutes and see what it's like for themselves. If anyone can afford to do that, it's Google.
Google: show us Glass is, don't tell us what it's not.
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