Earlier this summer a group researchers published a paper that tried to tackle the question of how people wearing activated onboard cameras, found in Google Glass and other digital eyeware, change their behavior in social settings.
Their results showed that people tend to act in a "prosocial" manner -- extra engaging or friendly -- for about 10 minutes, when they know the camera is there, and then revert to standard behavior. If you remind the subject that the camera is on, they will revert to the previous prosocial behavior.
This implies that if device makers want to keep people aware of their onboard computer, they'll need periodic notifications, like a beep or a light visible to the user. That may keep people out of trouble by not accidentally filming things they don't want the rest of the world to see.
The paper came out with little fanfare and perhaps rightfully. The findings are intuitive and researchers say their research "could" be good new or bad news for other researchers or device makers. There's still a lot of work to be done before we really understand how wearable computing changes human behavior.
Especially smartglasses. From my own time with Google Glass I found I had a very anti-social behavior. When I wanted to view the onboard screen my eyes were forced up to the right, almost as if I was having a seizure -- people did not enjoy engaging with me. No one likes talking to someone focused on their smartphone but at least their facial expressions don't give your animal senses the impression they're about to be sick.
I never turned on Glass's camera but I've been in the room when others have. It was far more disconcerting than when someone films a room with a smartphone. The filming is a non-event. A little light switches on -- that's it. At least with a smartphone someone is swinging a camera around the room. It doesn't feel like a secret.
No doubt the Google marketing department has work to do. As the search giant has released Glass, people have reacted with everything from wonder to threats when testers wear them in public. Earlier this year a bar in San Francisco, a city seldom afraid to fan the flames of controversy, made the news after a patron wore Glass to the annoyance, and eventually violence, of other patrons after she said she was filming them with the device.
Google is doing it's best to make Glass "normal". The company wants their business to go far beyond being a search engine with extra free tools. Go to a conference on wearables and you'll notice most Google employees wearing them, eager to tell you how great they are. Executives like special projects director Astro Teller and even founder Sergey Brin are seen around the Bay Area, even at high class cocktail parties, sporting the devices.
But many consumers are still skeptical of the value-add Glass would bring to everyday life. I spend a lot of time on my phone and am still not convinced that I need to wear a computer on my face just to be quicker to find directions or read an email. Pulling out a phone isn't such a chore that I need (to pay for) a second device. "There's no point in having it on your body unless you really give people something they really couldn't get otherwise," Teller admitted at a recent conference.
But people were skeptical about smartphones and we know how that turned out. Not to mention, many jobs do require hands-on work, like construction or surgery. In these cases an on-face computer operated by voice commands would certainly be useful.