This guest blog is by Brian Lystgaard Due, University of Copenhagen, who has been researching the fascinating question of what it means to wear a mobile camera while going about one’s everyday business.
The social implications of using Google Glass
When I first heard of Google Glass (GG) I was struck by its design and functionality, and thought to my self: How will these works in social interaction? So I contacted a Danish spectacles foundation (Synoptik Fonden) and applied for extra research funding. I bought a pair of GG in January 2014, and wore them as part of a breaching experiment with my self and my different soundings as research objects. I experienced many interesting possibilities but also vast limitations. So I organized three different social experiments and video recorded them.
From my experimental settings – students in ordinary conversation; students in a controlled lab environment and paramedics in an institutionalized lab setting – I have been able to outline in details the interactional troubles participants produce, which may lead to the overall framing in the media of Glass-users as Glassholes.
Here are two images of the paramedics wearing Google Glass as they perform an exercise in training. Note that in the right hand photo, the paramedic is using GG to scan the label of a packet of medication to identify its usage.
Who goes next?
Identity, sequential relevance and epistemics are at high stake. In a GG context, the issue is: who or what is projected to do what in the next relevant position? GG itself may be defined as a non-human participant in the interaction taking turns. Therefore, the use of GG needs to be incorporated in one way or another into the “normal” organisation of turn-taking. However, the various functions of GG are ambiguous to most participants, which is observable as, e.g., hesitation and repair initiations.
With GG, there are no markers for specific activities. The functionality of Glass is manifold: check emails, take photos, record videos, search the Internet, play games, or use other kinds of apps. However, none of these different activities are displayable in the social context. When participants are using smartphones, their co-participants may have a clue about what is going on since they can see the display or know the context. This is not the case with GG. Therefore, the experience and understanding of the situation is private. Co-participants may have no idea as to how the device is being used at the time and whether or not the user is interruptible or a relevant / non-relevant participant in interaction. This is a complicated matter in social interaction.
In short; my research stresses that the potential of GG and other kinds of smart glasses is huge in settings where the user is occupied with specific tasks that involves his two free arms, but if smart glasses are to be used in social interaction, their functionality needs to be designed so that any use is accurately fitted the sequential organization.