Way back in 2010, I got a pair of video recording sunglasses. I've been occasionally using them to "lifelog" what I'm doing. With the advent of Google's Project Glass, I thought it would be interesting to wear them to a fairly techy event - Not At SXSW London - to see what the reaction would be.
Here are my findings.
These are not Google Glasses. These are £15 DVR Sunglasses. They are cheap and nasty and don't look anything like the futuristic Google Glasses.
They record VGA quality video and have a mono microphone suitable for picking up close range sounds. There's no visual feedback.
Several people in the bar asked if I was wearing Google Glasses - for an as-yet unlaunched product, there are plenty of people who know about them. In swinging London, at least.
I walked down Oxford Street to get some cash - there are a few moments when people seem to recognise that I'm not wearing a normal piece of eyewear.
The video should give you a good idea of some of the pitfalls of life logging - not to mention the tediousness of always on recording.
I'm A Creep
From playing back the footage, I spend a huge amount of time staring at breast and arses. Am I a lecherous old creep? Well, only partly. Because the glasses have a fixed camera, the record whatever my nose is pointed at - not where my eyes are looking. My head is facing forward but my eyes are pointing left - I'm looking at you but recording what's ahead of me.
So, if you were to pick out the worst moments of my video, you'd see me oggling a collection of bums (male and female) and checking out a swathe of chests (again, male & female).
Just like President Obama.
More than embarrassing, it also means you don't capture what you are actually looking at. Unless the lens has an incredibly wide field of view, you're going to miss out on a whole lot.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!
Initially, people stared at the glasses rather than me. That was quite disconcerting. As the evening wore on, the glasses faded into the background and people seemed to get a lot more comfortable with them. It's quite easy to forget that you are recording - or that you are being recorded. Which leads to...
Tom Scott & I were having a chat, when suddenly he let slip one of his frequent rants about how David Cameron was born in Kenya (or something). He immediately realised he was being recorded and asked for me to edit out the last few seconds of footage. Naturally I sold his bizarre and spiteful theories to the tabloid press in the hope of ousting him from his throne as King of the Interwebs.
We quickly came up with a universal gesture which means "please delete the last 10 seconds of recording."
The scissors is fairly recognisable to both humans and computers. The "snip snip" meaning "to cut out" is fairly unambiguous and rarely conflicts with any other common gesture. It also has added significance in the UK.
Other people just seemed to forget that I was recording. Within a few moments they were bitching about their jobs, spouses, health - all the usual things that friends grouse about. They are reliant on my continuing friendship to keep those conversations private. That's a really uncomfortable feeling. I don't want people to be friendly to me because they're afraid I might post to YouTube a video of them talking about how much they hate their boss.
In a way, we've always had this problem. But before it was restricted to "he said she said" - now there's evidence.
Low Light, High Volume
Some of the most awkward social situations - and some of my fondest memories - happen in darkly lit bars with thunking music. I've no idea how well the real Google Glasses will perform, but it's likely they'll be overwhelmed by the noise and - unless they include infrared lighting - be practically useless in low light situations.
Towards the end of the evening, Shoe Blogger Sabrina Johnson - came up to me to ask if I was really wearing Google Glasses. Here's the only barely usable piece of video.
I've experimented with perhaps the least interesting - but most controversial - aspect of Google Glass. We already have the ability to record our daily lives, but a cheap pair of Video Sunglasses make the process a lot more subtle - and virtually effortless.
One of my favourite sci-fi books is "The Light of Other Days"
It explores, in part, what would happen if we could see into the past. Imagine if you could rewind to any point in your personal history and rewatch old arguments. If you could see whether you really were as funny as you thought. If you could add up how much time you spent playing Tetris.
Watching back my drunken escapades was, ironically, a sobering experience. I thought I had a good time last night, but it appears I spent much of the evening queuing for drinks, looking at my phone, or trapped in conversation with a bore. My inebriated wit isn't quite up to the standard of Oscar Wilde.
I've trapped my memories on silicon wafers. Not just my memories - but slices of other people's lives as well. Those recordings are now my hostages - and I don't know how that makes me feel.