Sunday, December 22, 2013

Glass in the Wild

            I've never seen another Explorer in the wild. It's been near isolation in my tech-napped
world for the past five weeks, sans Google hangouts with my inspiration for investing in Glass.
            Then, I met Aaron*, a fellow second generation Explorer and programmer. Just days before Christmas, amidst the throngs of holiday guests to the happiest place on Earth, I stood at the checkout counter of a store along the main street in California Adventure. The cast member registering my purchase took an eager interest in Glass, so I began my friendly, routine explanation. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a figure lingering nearby, not even eight feet away from me. As I glanced sideways, I caught the startling image of a face with Glass.
            The sight shouldn't surprise me, yet, since this was my first public encounter with another Explorer, I was unprepared for meeting my kin. In a way, my initial mild shock is probably similar to what the general public upon meeting "one of us". Note to self, smile even more and look even more approachable to assuage that shock.
            He grinned and slowly approached me, and we exchanged pleasantries and names. At this point, with two of us bearing the same unfamiliar gadgets on our faces, the curiosity of the people around us became insatiable, and the flood of questions began. Typical, expected. However, he was well-versed in his response. He whipped out his phone and opened his screencast so fast that I simply deferred to his explanation.
            While his words were amicable and demonstrated patience, he certainly moved and spoke with, might I say, aloofness, with a general lack of eye contact and an over confidence in his knowledge of Glass. I can't say for sure that it was true aloofness, but at the time, I couldn't put my finger on the meaning of his demeanor. He brusquely pointed out that should show my screencast as well, but, in my mind, our holding up the entire line to demonstrate Glass felt a little selfish and, with attention spans waning, perhaps unnecessary.
            His explanation was rehearsed yet approachable, and when one of the cast members asked if we received a lot of questions about Glass, he replied with, "Yes." That tinge of exasperation in his voice was so subtle, so brief, that I'm sure I'm the only one who caught it (intuition of people's feeling courtesy of my counseling background).  Then, as quickly as he appeared, he wrapped up his three line explanation and left the store at a quick pace.
            I didn't know what to make of this encounter. In all, everyone we talked to walked away with positive awe about Glass, which is one of our primary goals as technology ambassadors. However, something felt odd: the way he kept distance from people; the forced, albeit friendly, recitation of how Glass works; the tinge of exasperation; even the lack of eye contact; the quick departure. These all spoke of someone who has been jaded by the Glass experience.
            I messaged my Glass friend about meeting another Explorer "in the wild" and gave a brief synopsis of the experience, ending with my dismay at Aaron's apparent aloofness. My friend messaged back,
            "Yeah, I could see that happening. A lot of Explorers would probably fall on the introverted side of the spectrum."
            I sensed validity to this assertion, as several of my technology-oriented friends, many of whom are self-proclaimed or are otherwise labeled as a "geek", tend to exhibit the very traits I saw in Aaron: socially awkward, intensely occupied with technology, unconsciously didactic, friendly but skittish. Of course, individual experiences tend to bias in a particular direction, and with pop culture directing the masses toward believing geeks to be introverted, technology-oriented, and often socially awkward. Just look at The Big Bang Theory's characterization of geeks, and you'll see my point. Even American author Julie Smith described a geek as "a bright young man turned inward, poorly socialized, who felt so little kinship with his own planet that he routinely traveled to the ones invented by his favorite authors, who thought of that secret, dreamy place his computer took him to as cyberspace."
            Don't get me wrong; most geeks are amazing people who tend to cluster around a specific set of personality traits, including introversion, and I am not saying there is anything wrong with introversion. Even I tend toward introversion the Myers Briggs Personality Profile. However, this classic geek trait does carry certain ramifications in the introduction of Glass by an almost exclusively technology-oriented population, such as programmers and developers. The original premise of the Explorer program was to invite individuals to test, for a price, Glass before it reached the general public, meaning that it has fallen upon those introverted individuals to interface with the public about Glass.
            I have a feeling that a lot of people, while curious and excited by the new technology, see it as a geek gadget for that exclusive population of programmers and developers. Nearly every person I have spoken with while wearing Glass has asked if I work for or am somehow affiliated with Google. The next question is always an assumption formed as a question about my being a programmer. People do not yet see this product as a gadget for the general population, which I think is being perpetuated by the fact that the lovable but not exactly extroverted population of Explorers happen to be technology savants who can demonstrate the product well but leave doubt in the minds of the public they interface with if this product can be useful anyone.
            With third generation Explorer invites being submitted as I speak, I hope the Glass population waters down to include more "average" people, such as myself, not because I don't appreciate the tech-geeks responsible for initially introducing Glass, but because the public needs to feel like they are an extension of this project, too, capable of becoming, in their own right, a self-proclaimed tech-geek.

*Name has been changed.

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Sister Has Been Glass-napped

            It was inevitable that I would have to introduce my family to Glass. Walking around at the next holiday dinner and wearing a computer on my face would probably trigger some well-justified curiosity. Being previously tech-averse, I knew this would be a big unveiling, and I wanted to introduce it in as positive and enthusiastic a way as possible.
            With an upcoming brunch with my dad's family, I decided to take Glass for a test drive. I rehearsed my phraseology and sharpened my fluidity with Glass to ensure I came off, to their technologically untrained ears and eyes, as an expert in my new gadget.
            Although I'm more introverted in public, I am much less shy around my family, so I decided to make a show of wearing Glass into the restaurant. I marched up to the table with a big, self-satisfied grin on my face, feeling something between pride and embarrassment as I pretended that the computer on my face was as natural as the blue in the summer sky.
            They reacted with as much enthusiastic curiosity as I could have hoped, and while their positive responses empowered me, my nine year old sister was the one who stole the show.
            With nearly nineteen years between us, my sister and I aren't exactly your standard siblings, and in many ways, we are complete opposites. Where I wanted to please others when I was her age, my sister is headstrong and single-minded in her pursuit of pleasure. For example, when I tried rehearsing with her single-digit multiplication facts, her eyes glazed over, and her self-inflicted ADD tendencies flickered away conscious thought.
            "Rochelle, what is two times four?" I asked.
            "Seven," she replied absently, her eyes roving the restaurant in search of anything but math and numbers.
            "Wrong. And you know it. What is two times four?"
            "I don't know. Let's go play. Come on, Ashley!"
            I thought for a moment and concocted what seemed like a brilliant plan. "Sure, I'll play with you."
            "As soon as you tell me the product of fifteen times four." I grinned and turned back to the adults, convinced that I had put her in her place.
            Four seconds later, "Sixty. Let's play!"
            That's the kind of little sister I have. I adore her, and while she may not be the standard academician, she is both bright and an independent thinker.
            Fast forward back to her introduction to Glass: for a few minutes, she watched me demonstrate to my dad and grandparents how to use Glass. Then, she boldly asked, "Can I try?"
            Sure, I figured. Let her give it a try. I'm curious how long it will take her to figure this thing out. With a few directives from me, she managed to navigate through many of basic voice commands. I decided to give her free reign to try out as many functions as she possible. My mistake wasn't in giving her an open invitation to Glass surf on my account; my mistake was in diverting my attention to something else. In that absent moment, as I further explained Glass to my dad and grandparents, she managed to voice initiate a video call to someone on my contact list. I managed to connect the dots just after she said his name, and before I could stop the call, my friend had already picked up, his small image just visible to me on Glass's screen.
            I would have done a better job explaining the situation to my poor friend, who had obviously only woken up because of the incoming call, had I not been in a fit of giggling hysterics. Video calling from Glass means that the person on the other end is seeing what the person wearing Glass is seeing. My sister could see my friend through Glass, as he was using a standard webcam, but he could see my entire family eating brunch and hear my sister talking with him. I can only imagine how confused he was. Fortunately, he was a good sport about the whole thing and graciously listened to her chatter before I finally garnered sense enough to end the call.
            By the end of the meal, my sister had mastered voice initiated texting, taking pictures, Google searching, phone calling, and video calling. Of course, being a nine year old, her sole concern was when Glass would have games, like the ones on her tablet. When I apparently didn't adequately explain why Glass didn't have those games, she took to asking Glass, in her most playfully condescending voice possible, for the answer to why Glass doesn't have good games. Sometimes, sisters can be brats (and I say this in the most loving way possible).
            Even if she did use my own toy against me, I'm excited that she intuitively figured out Glass, which I interpret as a positive harbinger for future, juvenile Glass users. More importantly, I can officially say that my sister has been Glass-napped.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Taking Glass for a Run

            As a tech neophyte - I didn't even own a smart phone until I decided to purchase Glass - the world of apps is still new to me. A couple years ago, when my students asked for app recommendations, I naively mentioned that my dumb phone had a calculator. We all giggled and smiled as I held up my phone. I thought we were laughing at how students are so reliant on calculators to do math; they honestly thought I was telling a joke.
            Of course, I have since learned to think differently about apps and phones. Most importantly, apps are a way to personalize the technology experience: games, sports, shopping, e-readers, and more. However, Glass's nascent existence means fewer Glass-compatible apps at present. Combined with my general lack of familiarity with apps, personalizing my technology experience could be a challenge.
            Cue my resident Glass expert, who recommended a running app that works with Glass. In hindsight, this recommendation was brilliant, as it gave me a reason to wear Glass on a daily basis. However, upon hearing about the Strava running app, I blithely dismissed it as an over-glorified timer, perhaps a pedometer with an appealing UI to compensate for lack of content. However, I am fully vested in this adventure and want to try everything on for size, so I loaded the app and went for a run.
            Needless to say that when the Glass lady's crisp voice suddenly chirped my distance, time, split, and pace, I skipped a step and nearly tripped myself. Even with my music blaring full volume in my ear buds, that voice cut through the music and startled me. Bemused, I kept running and pushed myself just a little faster. When her voice rang out again at the one mile mark, I was prepared for the update.
            I usually reserve running outdoors for distance or relaxing runs, while treadmill runs are used for interval and speed training. However, the simple act of providing split times and pacing activated my self-competitiveness, and I found myself pushing harder than usual.
            At one point, I tried nodding to trigger Glass in order to find out my elapsed time between half miles, but as soon as the clock flickered to life, it went dark again. I tried again, only to meet with the same result. It took me a few tries to connect the dots and realize that the jostling of my head simulated nodding, which activates and deactivates Glass. I have since learned that I can turn off this function, but, whether it's sheer laziness on my part or a genuine lack of needing to know my exact, current time, I have opted to keep on the head tilt function.
            If I had a heart rate monitor, I could sync it with Strava and create a more complete fitness profile. However, even without tracking heart rate, I think Strava meets my needs. Ironically, I didn't even know I had a need for a running app, but I've used it for every outdoor run since that first time. I am still under the impression that I don't need technology, but I certainly can benefit from using it in my daily life. I think this is going to be the great thing about my grand, technology adventure: finding ways for technology to complement and enhance my lifestyle. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

An Introvert's Battle

       Wearing a computer on my face isn't exactly an effective way to blend into the masses. While I am not necessarily shy, particularly in front of forty squirming and flighty preteens, I naturally tend toward introversion, and a well-documented history with stage fright confirms that, at the very least, I do my best to avoid public attention. Yet, for my first outing with Glass, I brazenly chose to wear it to Disneyland.
            I suppose I was superficially conscious of the social repercussions of wearing Glass, and I knew that reactions could err in either direction. However, as soon as I entered the throngs at Disneyland, I suddenly became fully aware of the quantity and spectrum of responses that Glass would elicit: baffled looks, curious glances, awed gazes, morbid stares, double-takes.
            I walked through the crowds trying my best to project an aura of approachability and affability. I may not be a tech wiz, but I am an ambassador for Glass by being interfacing with the public. With great respect for that responsibility, I want people to associate Glass with friendliness and, to be honest, a sense of normalcy, as if this device could easily be used by anyone. Admittedly, stomaching those first ten minutes of public attention require a good deal of fortitude and resiliency, lest I be intimidated by mere looks.
            I purposely planned my Glass experience to coincide with regular Saturday swing dancing event so that, at the very least, Glass time could blend with the normal course of my day. It just so happens that this dance event is held inside Disneyland. I left an hour earlier than usual in order to get used to wearing Glass out in public. Why not experiment with trial by fire?
            In the hustle and bustle of the park, most people did not confront me about Glass. Outside a curious glance, people seemed content to curiously gawk, so I usually returned a friendly smile and kept walking.
            If only that could be said for my first verbal interaction regarding Glass. As I rested on a bench inside the park, two men walking by did a double take and whirled around. I summoned courage for my first Glass dialogue with a genuine smile, but before I could so much as utter a greeting, they began spewing acrimony.
            "Glass is evil!"
            "Demon woman!"
            "Apple is better!"
            Now, this is not a commentary on Apple aficionados. Idiots come from all backgrounds. I was so startled that I fortunately couldn't manage a response and reveal my snarky side, which would run contrary to my goal of positive public interfacing with Glass. This apparently atypically hostile  confrontation did, however, put me through trial by fire, and instead of withdrawing into the introverted side of me, I kept on Glass and continued my tour through the park.
            The rest of the night I experienced only baffled or positive reactions to Glass; however, no one else verbally acknowledged the device. Perhaps it was the pedestrian nature of my observers that prevented direct interactions; however, I wanted more than just notice - I wanted to dialogue about Glass.
            The next day, my mom and I went for a hike, and, to respect the boundaries of a technophobic parent, I left Glass at home. When I mentioned needing to buy a new computer charger, she acted uncharacteristically interested in my intended outing.
            "Are you going to Best Buy after you eat lunch?" she asked.
            "Can I go?"
            "What? You don't like running errands with me."
            "I want to go. You should wear Glass."
            Ah! There it was. Her curiosity must have been stronger than her tech aversion, because, before that, she wanted little to do with Glass (or technology in general). In this case, she could be an observer and directly interface with Glass. I hadn't planned on wearing it to the store, but curiosity won me over as well - how will people "in the know" with technology respond to Glass?
            The tech geeks at Best Buy didn't disappoint. (Trust me, tech geek is a compliment of the highest order from me. The one and only solution to technology problems is to turn off the device and then turn it back on.) Mostly, they whispered, stared, and gawked. However, a brave and vocal minority approached me and asked about Glass. Two asked to take a photo with me, which were then posted to social media, and one even asked to have his photo taken by Glass. A middle-aged printer rep was the bravest of the bunch and spoke with me for a solid fifteen minutes about the marvels of modern technology.

            Warm and genuine interactions like the ones I experienced at Best Buy reaffirm my decision to become an Explorer. I am the average person acting as an ambassador for a high-tech gadget that has been, to this point, associated exclusively with the tech crowd. In addition to Glass being a rare sighting in general, seeing an regular, non-tech individual with Glass makes a statement about the device's image. I may be, as a group of Best Buy employees stated, "the cute blonde with Glass" or "an evil woman with a devil device", according to the bozos at Disneyland. Either way, for someone like me, it's as much about the social experience as it is about actually integrating Glass into my daily life. Additionally, until Glass becomes widely available, wearing it forces me out of my comfort zone, and I get to live the introvert-turned-extrovert fairytale for a short while.