Ricky and I recently attended SXSW and for a SXSW first-timer it was a mind-mashing experience. There was so much going on, just getting to the Austin Convention Centre was exciting. Activations were everywhere. Spotify tent! Mashable House! Samsung blogger lounge! SXSW is the holy land, where Texans can be Democrats and geeks can be geeks. And the very height of geekery was a bunch of Google Glass Explorers who were let loose on SXSW. My inner-nerd loved getting a glimpse of what the world will be like when we’re all wearing Google Glass. The flipside to this – you couldn’t help over-hear people giggle at the Explorers. The general consensus was until they looked better, people weren’t keen to wear them.
That aside, wearables was still the number one hot topic at SXSW and they are going to change our lives. A popular session hosted by Shaquille O’Neal, the self-professed “biggest geek of them all”, focused in on the evolution of wearables. Shaq loves all-things tech, particularly his fitbit, which he shared with the audience he never leaves home without. There’s two major reasons for that – Shaq can basically do what he likes, and fitbits and their kind have what Google Glass are currently lacking; social acceptability.
Let’s think back to the dawn of time, otherwise known as the early 1980s. My aunty brought me a Walkman from Hong Kong. Despite the fact it could only fast forward (no rewind), that walkman made me the coolest kid at Seaholme kindergarten. And this is where it gets tricky for Google Glass, because right now they look kind of daggy. Last week’s announcement of the strategic deal between Google and Luxottica will definitely help with the look but there is a bigger challenge facing Google Glass.
For the non-wearer, Google Glass creates a feeling of uncomfortableness. The kids understood why I was rocking my Walkman, but right now the everyman doesn’t really get why people are wearing Google Glass. What are they using them for? Are they invading my privacy? And that’s where we run into the other hot topic of SXSW – privacy.
For me the moment of SXSW (aside from the appearance of Grumpy Cat) was Edward Snowden’s keynote, beamed live from Russia. We’re all awakening from a privacy slumber and Snowden’s address captured the feeling more than any other. Suddenly it’s not just weirdos who are worried about online privacy, the general public have twigged that spilling your virtual guts via Facebook is putting your data out there to be accessed. And people are starting to do the sums – not only is this data out there to be accessed, they’re understanding that publishers are making money by using the data to sell ads. All those worries, valid or otherwise, physically manifest themselves in Google Glass. People can’t necessarily visualise online privacy, it’s not like a security door on your house, it’s intangible, but Google Glass embodies those very privacy concerns. They’re looking people right in the face. And those misgivings have two sides; we’re worried about what the people are doing with their Glass, and by extension, what Google will do with the data they collect via Glass.
And this is where we wash out. Glass is the vehicle to bring Google beyond your device and into your life. But how will Glass get past our ever-growing squeamishness about privacy and into our lives? It has to be a mash of consumer useability and privacy that still provides Google the data they’re after. Coming up with the solution is definitely beyond the powers of this geekette. There aren’t many challenges that Google hasn’t been able to answer, and we’ll be waiting to see where it takes this one.
Leah Dickenson, digital director, Maxus and Ricky Chanana, national digital and trading director, Maxus