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5/9/2013
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Google Glass Etiquette: A Work In Progress

Can you stop recording me now? That's one worry early Google Glass users say they're trying to soothe while creating social norms for the groundbreaking gadget.

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While recounting his experience using Google Glass for the past few weeks, Noble Ackerson had his privacy invaded, again.

Ackerson, a technology strategist and software developer in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, was participating in a phone interview using his mobile phone, hands free, while wearing Glass in his car. Upon pulling into a parking spot at a car dealership, he began chuckling: A man had just taken his picture, he explained.

Ackerson observed that while Glass gets characterized in the press as a tool for invading people's privacy, "I've had more people take photos and videos of me than I've been in situations where I would want to record someone."

Like many people who have worn Glass in public, Ackerson has encountered negative reactions. He recalled a recent visit to one of his clients, where a young woman said, "It looks like you have something wrong with you."

[ How can Google make Glass better? Read Google Glass Gets Smeared: 11 Improvement Ideas. ]

Asked to elaborate, she said, "It just doesn't look natural." Ackerson said he responded by telling her that the inventor of the monocle probably received similar reactions.

Ackerson wore Glass during a meeting with a different client and that client didn't say anything until the end of the meeting. He said that after he explained he was wearing Glass, the client remarked that it made him look crazy.

Ackerson said his experience as an early Chevy Volt driver was similar. "Any new technology will come with its own misconceptions," he said. That may explain why, back in March, Ackerson created a series of etiquette cards for Glass. He likens his role as a Glass Explorer to that of an ambassador for Google's technology.

Evidently, Glass needs ambassadors, because some people are intolerant and abusive to those wearing the device. There's a discussion on the Glass Community website, a closed forum for Glass Explorers, that asks about the negative experiences Glass users have dealt with. Developer Ben Oberkfell opened the discussion. "I just had an experience yesterday, on day two of owning Glass, where someone leveled an obscenity at me as we passed on the sidewalk," he wrote.

The good news for Google and Glass Explorers is that hate isn't the most common reaction to Glass. At least half of the handful of developers contributing to the discussion described positive responses to wearing Glass.

Det Ansinn, president and founder of software development company BrickSimple and Council President of Doylestown Boro in Pennsylvania, wrote, "I've had great experiences wearing it on the street. I enjoy a daily walking commute so I get to see a lot of people. As an elected official, people are always more than willing to stop me and talk. I do 'Glass with confidence' and I suspect that goes a long way."

Michael DiGiovanni, emerging technology lead for marketing and design firm Roundarch Isobar, said in a phone interview that he'd experienced mostly positive reactions. "Everyone I've come up to has been intrigued and interested," he said. "The most negative reaction has come from security guards, who almost always ask if Glass is recording."

But, DiGiovanni said, once he explains that Glass is not always recording, the wary relax and become interested. He too likens the role of Glass Explorer to that of an ambassador and an evangelist. "If we take a few minutes to explain the technology and address concerns, I think we'll make it more acceptable," he said.

DiGiovanni said that while Glass has taken a while to get used to, he sees it serving a role similar to a smart watch. He suggests Glass will allow people to access information without removing their smartphones from their pockets. And he praised Glass's turn-by-turn navigation as exceptional.

Like Ackerson, DiGiovanni said he's had people take his picture because he's wearing Glass. He noted it was ironic that people fear Glass will invade their privacy when they're the ones taking pictures with their mobile phones.

Larry Rosen, a professor and past chair of the psychology department at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and author of iDisorder, contends that the negative reaction to Glass goes beyond uncertainty about its capabilities and its privacy implications.

The salient issue, Rosen explained in a phone interview, has to do with expectations about attention. "If you're out at a restaurant with a group of people and they're picking up their phones, you know people are not attending to you. …It's not obvious with Glass. You're creating a situation where attention becomes ambiguous."

Rosen likens the situation to the advent of Bluetooth earpieces several years ago. The expectation then was that when you heard someone speaking in your vicinity, that person was probably speaking to you. Bluetooth earpieces and mobile phones violated that expectation and, as a result, annoyed people.

"We've now come into a gray area about what is social etiquette," he explained. "There is no etiquette for holding someone in your visual field and not paying attention to that person."

However, Rosen does not expect this to be an issue for long. He suggests that just as we've gotten used to having televisions in bedrooms and to individuals conversing aloud within unseen people, we'll acclimate to Glass.

"We appear to adapt to technological innovations rather rapidly and that's good because they're coming rather rapidly," he said.

At the same time, that doesn't mean the transition will be easy. "Etiquette always lags behind acceptance," Rosen said. "There's still no etiquette for using a cell phone in the middle of church. It's frowned upon but people still do it."

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