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A sceptic’s week with Google Glass

With some tipping Google Glass to further evolve change our day-to-day experiences, DT’s creative technologist and Glass sceptic Tim Devine found some surprising results after a week with the device.

In a kind of tribute to Steve Mann, the father of wearable computing, and so that I might have at least something of an informed opinion on the subject, I wore Google Glass for a week — everywhere, all the time. For thirty years Mann has worn far less sophisticated versions, so I figured it couldn’t be that onerous, and if I was to give Mann and Glass proper shrift nothing less than full immersion would do.

Aside from my Mann crush, as a creative technologist and practicing media artist my work has at times suffered from crushes on various technologies. There is something wonderful about expectations for a new technology — beyond the new toy anticipation the potential for a leap to occur, even if only in the imagination, is sufficient to begin all manner of feverish speculation.

My relationship with Glass as a technology reminds me of a girl I was seeing a few years ago. While crashing on a friends couch in Brooklyn after an epic romance and break up I noticed a card that read, “I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you”. Love is blind but temporarily.

Spike Jonze’s Her is closer than we think 

So the question this led me to suppose was do our relationships with technologies form in a similar way to our relationships with people? A hot flush at the beginning, fading slowly to something you could reasonably take for granted but pine for when you’re apart, replace with the new and shiny, or even do away with altogether?

A few weeks ago I found myself, a youngish creative technologist, contemplating an arranged marriage with Google Glass. Our agency, DT, was fortunate enough to acquire a couple of sets and as I run the creative technology lab I felt obliged to engage.

To be honest, if I could solve a brief with a single fold in a sheet of A4 paper I would. I’ve spent years trying to neutralise the effect technology has on me, while endeavouring to deeply understanding it — when a technology like this is pre-released and inevitably polarises the community, it ends up shrouded in media hype, shrill denunciations and misrepresentative guesswork in the rush to be earliest non-adopter.

The most useful commentary comes from direct experience no matter the device. So I flipped the SIM from my iPhone 5 into a Nexus 5, (Glass needs to be tethered to an Android phone) and strapped on Glass for a week.

Wearing Glass is like dating a celebrity

All week I scored free drinks and double takes as I went about my everyday. It was with me everywhere — driving, golfing, the beach, cycling, the cinema, a rooftop bar, work, watching a band, a restaurant, rock climbing and importantly while I lay hungover in my lounge room hammock. I didn’t skydive, fly a stunt plane, frolic with reptiles, trapeze, sword fight, juggle fire, ice sculpt, own a catwalk, hot air balloon or figure skate — though I was ready for it all, Google.

Glass brings voice interaction into a far more functional context. You have to give over to it, to the point where it sounds like you’re talking to a puppy — very conspicuous if there isn’t a puppy around. If you enunciate, and the sound environment is at a reasonable level, it’s pretty good.

Halfway into my week I found myself engaging in conversation with other computer generated voices, similar to accidentally swiping a non-touchscreen, or mentally pressing “Command-Z” when you pour salt instead of sugar into your tea. In a most illustrative case I was in the part harried, part dazed condition induced by self-checkout in the supermarket.

When asked if I wanted a receipt I accurately turned to face the machine and robotically, in perfect oral formation, enunciated “No. (Pause) Thanks.” Under normal conditions I’m as irritated and diminished as the next person by the automated voice of those machines yet here I was naturally, if automatically, having verbal exchange with one as I would any corporeal service entity.

Fear of blinking in bathrooms

Glass is great for capturing content by voice or wink detection. It’s some kind of wonderful snapping photos with the wink of an eye. Every time I posted something to Facebook it was tagged ‘via Google Glass’, and shot from my 203cm perspective. The result is a peculiar kind of kink in the cultural and visual aesthetic to the content glass captures — it will always be shot from slightly above and outside your right eye, though I eventually figured out how to take a selfie without looking at a mirror. I did find myself trying to warp my neck or body for the best shot, but generally I took photos with a quick wink. If you wish to you can imagine my cold, blinkless disposition while I line up in a bathroom at the rooftop bar.

Being unusually tall I’m used to people compelled to ask questions about my experience up there. With Glass I’ve added an entirely new set of icebreakers. Mostly I found myself looking awkwardly out of windows on trams so as to not to have passengers opposite feel like they were in my camera’s field of view. Maybe there will be a mechanical shutter door in future releases to alleviate this awkwardness. Or better still, maybe we need a new type of necklace that emits powerful infrared light visible only to Glass and not the human eye, blowing out all photos taken with Glass, like a kind of urban camo! Tech, counter tech.

Google Glass sits somewhere between the hype and a hands free bluetooth headset with a screen/camera

My original view of Glass was that it was a thing you wore all the time and that it would more or less replace your phone. Personally I wouldn’t wear it all the time. In the Glass Explorer forums there are countless tips on when it’s appropriate to wear it or how to avoid confrontation — like a dojo really. That said, it’s been 24 hours since the end of my experience and I’ve caught myself peering longingly up to where my Glass once satiated my visual cortex… I miss it… if only a little.

Some people will love Glass and wear it all the time (afforded the excuse to wear prescriptionless designer frames). For others maybe it’s a part-time screen, with similar utility to a hands free earpiece. Either way Glass, or some other brand of face-screen coming soon, is definitely going to be part of our mediated life.

Tim Devine is a Creative Technologist at DT.

This article was originally published on mUmBRELLA.


The internet IS real life.

by Nextness published August 21, 2012 posted in Real life

The best nights are always the least Instagrammed, they say.

Bloggers you follow have probably started self-righteously announcing “I had the most amazing weekend ever, but there are no photos because I unplugged.”

Or, “I had the best meal, because we phone stacked and just paid attention to each other for once. We talked, instead of social networked. It was amazing.”

You tweeted, but I wrote a sentence in my notebook; that means mine was much more meaningful.

And remember that NYT piece about The ‘Busy Trap’ that everyone tweeted and Facebooked and emailed last month?

The author finds himself submerged by email and ‘endless frenetic hustle,’ unable to think or work or relax.

…finally I fled town to the Undisclosed Location from which I’m writing this. Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check e-mail I have to drive to the library. I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know. I’ve remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars. I read. And I’m finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months.

Writing! Reading a book! Being creative…. Those things come naturally when you’re not chained to Facebook. Buttercups, stinkbugs and the stars! That is real life.

Except that it’s not. That viewpoint is smug and wrong.

Everything you do online is real. Online is real life.

The IRL Fetish.

Writer and social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson called out this trend in his piece The IRL Fetish. (IRL of course is web shorthand for “in real life.”)

He says plenty of people spend plenty of time offline, and like it – just as they are happy to spend time online and like it. “To obsess over the offline and deny all the ways we routinely remain disconnected is to fetishize this disconnection.”

He thinks commentator after commentator bemoans the loss of “real life” simply to make themselves seem more special: “I am real. I am the thoughtful human. You are the automaton.”

Digital dualism.

Moreover, to draw a distinction between online and offline life is absurd. We don’t toggle between them; we live in both, and are equally real in both. Jurgenson says,

What is most crucial to our time spent logged on is what happened when logged off; it is the fuel that runs the engine of social media. The photos posted, the opinions expressed, the check-ins that fill our streams are often anchored by what happens when disconnected and logged-off. The Web has everything to do with reality; it comprises real people with real bodies, histories, and politics.

If you believe the digital world is “virtual” and the physical world “real,” then you’re a “digital dualist.”

We, the web kids.

It could be generational.

Polish writer Peter Czerski (born in 1981) wrote We, the web kids to describe the mindset of people who grew up with the Internet and on the Internet.

…we do not ‘surf’ and the internet to us is not a ‘place’ or ‘virtual space’. The Internet to us is not something external to reality but a part of it: an invisible yet constantly present layer intertwined with the physical environment. We do not use the Internet, we live on the Internet and along it. If we were to tell our bildnungsroman to you, the analog, we could say there was a natural Internet aspect to every single experience that has shaped us… The Web to us is not a technology which we had to learn and which we managed to get a grip of. The Web is a process, happening continuously and continuously transforming before our eyes; with us and through us.

What does it mean for us?

Let’s be clear. Nextness believes in solitude, quiet, thoughtfulness and reflection.  We believe in nature. We think creativity can be nurtured through offline and online means. But we also love the internet. And change. And new stuff.

The wonderful thing is, if you discard the digital dualist viewpoint, you don’t have to choose between online and “real” life. You don’t have to be ashamed about liking Facebook as much as you like dinner parties, or filing your inspiration in a Tumblr instead of a Moleskin.

And what does it mean for the industry? Well, as web kids grow up, there might be fewer ads exhorting us to ‘Get real. Get outside.’

As blogger Sarah Wanenchak says, Dear Stihl: I’m already real, thanks.

Jessica Stanley is the Editor of Nextness. Some of her other Nextness posts include: Is the internet making you sad? | On process. |  Introverts in ad agencies: a helpful guide. | Left brain vs right brain. | How do you solve a problem like climate change? Or: why having the facts on your side doesn’t mean you’ll win. | The future belongs to the curious.


Is the internet making you sad?

by Nextness published May 8, 2012 posted in Real life

The internet is life-changing, world-changing. And it’s not optional: you need to be on it to do your work, to connect with your friends, to find your next job. Ignore it and you risk being left behind. The problem is that all this connection, information and sharing can be a bruising experience. There’s no wonder that some of us feel, after a day of RSS feeds and tweets, a sort of crushing overwhelmed insignificance.

  • “There is so much chatter over what we’re working on, where we’ve been, where we’re going, who we’re hanging out with, what we’ve accomplished and we’re all high fiving each other every day and this is all really good stuff, but sometimes it’s really exhausting too. In the end, what does it mean anyway? … it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly measuring yourself against the world. “ Sweet fine day.
  • “I… can’t shake the feeling I’m only contributing to the endless glut of sound and vision that is the internet. I wonder how many posts on other blogs I’ve actually read in the last six months, versus how many I’ve saved to read later. Later never comes. I wonder if any of us are truly reading and learning from each other, or if we’re all just treading water.“ Every Day the Same Dream.
  • “Looking at people’s blogs and Instagram photos can be intimidating at times, can’t it? (I’d say on a good day it’s inspiring and on a bad day it’s intimidating.) Because here are all these people seemingly doing it all and having it all in a beautiful, perfect way. It’s hard to tell if that’s reality or if we’re only privy to seeing things from one angle. Because no one wants to post pictures of their incompetence or that time when they felt truly unlovable.” Wiksten.

Without going as far as saying Facebook is making us lonely, it’s clear there’s something wrong here.

For many of us, browsing blogs, Facebook, pinterest, Twitter and Tumblr doesn’t inspire us – it makes us think we should be CEOs with a book deal, a movie coming out, two Italian greyhounds, a perfect home and a mean signature dish.

The fact is, on every blog we’re only seeing a tiny facet of someone’s life.

It’s that realisation that prompted blogger Ez from Creature Comforts to start Things I’m afraid to tell you. ”The more and more conversations I have with other bloggers and readers of blogs, the more sure I become of the fact that we are all just a little bit sick of all this perfection,” she said.

About her own burgeoning blog and craft business she revealed:

The nitty-gritty is that some months have been so tight that I’ve worried about making my rent payment or even buying groceries…a handful of times it’s gotten scary enough that I’ve had panic attacks daily just trying to think of how I’ll make it through. Just admitting that out loud is rather humiliating.

Now fifty bloggers have chimed in to share their deepest secrets: the things they don’t like about themselves or their lives, the secret shame behind the glossy facade on their social networks.

Is that the answer to feeling “overwhelmed insignificance”? To verbalise and share self-doubt? Or does “putting it all out there” just lead to more pain?

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston; she’s spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. In her famous TED talk, she said her research revealed that opening yourself up, exposing your humanity, is key to living to living a happy, purposeful life.  ”Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change,” she said at TED2012.

When it comes to making yourself vulnerable, there’s a nice example we can share close to home. Our COO Chris Savage started blogging at Wrestling Possums exactly a year ago. In this time he’s shared his greatest failings, struggles and most private thoughts. They’re all meditations on his journey: where he’s come from and where he’ll go. “Have courage to share your stuff ups with others. They’ll appreciate it. And your learnings will spread,” Chris says.

Of course, there is always that nagging feeling: what if someone thinks I’m wrong, or silly, or laughs at me? But as blogger Anthony Panozzo says,

That’s a vestigial fear coming out, like being worried about tigers or alpha male chimpanzees. The more rational concern, and the one you should focus on, is “does anyone even know that I exist?” The only way to solve this is to write.

Next time the internet makes you sad, talk about it.


Lessons in online retail from successful handcrafters.

by Nextness published April 27, 2011 posted in Innovation Real life

Yokoo lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and spends 15 hours a day knitting. She quit her job in 2008 to run a one-woman knitwear enterprise on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods. In 2009, the New York Times pegged her income at more than US$140,000 a year – and since then the business she controls every aspect of, from banding to production and distribution, has grown apace. So what’s her secret?

Big companies and retailers can learn a lot about the art of the online sale from handcrafters like Yokoo.

1. Invest each item with a narrative.

Making the most of your descriptions | Etsy

Everyone knows that you don’t give a hoot about the massed contestants of Masterchef or X Factor until individuals are invested with significance with a  “package” – the two minute reel that summarises their life story and what brought them to the competition. Then you choose sides, then you care. It’s equally important for objects for sale. Every successful handcrafter describes their goods with personality, encompassing their inspiration, ethos, and materials. (See: Significant objects; Objects with back stories; Guy Sebastian’s Idol Journey.)

2. Empathise with your purchasers: what do they need to know to purchase with peace of mind?

Etsy advises its sellers,

… the realities of buying online can further complicate your efforts to be a successful seller.  Without being able to see and touch your creations, you have to make them come alive from a flat, lifeless computer screen.  The buyer needs to be able to picture how their next purchase will appear in their home or on their body.

As well as imbuing them with a narrative, successful sellers of handmade and vintage goods take immense care in describing the detail of their goods.

  • They take time to post photos of the item from every angle.
  • They’re up front about every flaw in the item (such as scuff marks or discoloration in vintage or pattern variations in handmade) makes them a badge of pride (“see, you bought something individual!”) rather than a subject of complaint.
  • They always provide measurements, helping you to visualize the item on your body or in your house – and never rely on generic sizing, which varies so much as to be impossible to rely on.

This means buyers can fully imagine the object as part of their lives – and avoids nasty surprises when the item arrives.

3. Styling with personality.

Salt and pepper hat | Yokoo

Styling can be summarized as the art of inspiring you to covet objects by presenting them in action.

It is key to any successful online retailer, in objects as well as fashion. Yokoo has created an inimitable style of presentation. She always uses herself as the model  – as well as being striking, it’s cost-effective, since all she needs is a digital camera remote and self-timer. A generic photo of a hat or scarf would not be as vibrant and covetable.

Good styling makes customers feel they are buying something unique and valuable.

4. Encourage positive personal interactions.

Almost every item description on successful handmade sellers’ sites end with this line: “If you have any questions at all, please feel free to contact me.”

Handcraft retailers seem to know much better than major online shops that an inquiry is not an expensive or time-consuming chore; rather, it’s a pathway to a sale. If a potential customer emails a handcrafter asking if their bag fits a laptop, it’s the seller’s cue to offer to make them a bespoke one.

It also keeps their feedback ratings (built into major sites like Etsy) 100% positive.

5. Talk about yourself.

Dab hands at promoting their items, it is in self-promotion that the best handcrafters excel. But it’s not vulgar self-promotion, like a Twitter feed full of a hashtags. Instead, they are openly, genuinely themselves online and through that, develop a following for their goods.

Jenny Gordy | Wikstenmade

Jenny Gordy lives in Brooklyn and sells beautiful handmade fashion that she designs, sews and distributes herself under the label Wikstenmade. Like Yokoo, she stars in all the photos of her products, and readers of her blog (which has had nearly 2 million hits) can get an almost-daily insight into her life.

Not only do you see a Wiksten product as the product of an individual (you can even picture the studio it was painstakingly hand-made in), in purchasing one you are buying into a lifestyle.

6. Open up your inspiration.

The best designers of handmade crafts justifiably view themselves as artists and what they produce as art. Jewellery and clothing designer Caitlin Mociun is open about her vision and shares some the sources of her inspiration on her blog, as does Jenny from Wiksten and Yokoo on her Tumblr.

There is no fear that giving their gold away could result in people taking their ideas. As Tomorrow Museum’s Joanne McNeil says of creatives on the blogging platform Tumblr,

Revealing influences is the confidence of a true creative person: you can see where the ideas come from, because even with the same ingredients I know you can’t bake what I’m about to with it.

Granting this insight builds a community of people watching and waiting for your next work – which leads to sales.

7. Help your customers appreciate you; appreciate your customers.

Wrist worms | Sandra Juto
Wrist Worms are handmade fingerless gloves crocheted by Sandra Juto in Berlin, Germany. She asked her customers to send in pictures of themselves wearing their gloves – and you can see the delight and care they took in doing so.

Jenny from Wiksten does a similar thing with her Wiksten Patterns Flickr Group where people share the clothes they’ve made from her designs. Recognising and publicising your customers helps turn the relationship from buyer and seller into something nicer – and sends their friends and blog readers your way as customers.

8. The packaging is part of it.

Packaging | Tiny Happy

Unless you buy from Net-a-Porter (whose stylish black wrapping is legendary), most parcels arrive from online retailers looking a) overwrapped, and b) all business. The best handcraft sellers know that their packaging is part of the experience, carefully choosing paper and ribbons, enclosing a handwritten note and a business card with their details in case you want to pass it on to friends.

9. Open with their expertise.

While they make a living selling their goods, handcrafters see the value in creating communities of fans who appreciate the handmade and the crafter’s expertise. They demonstrate this by sharing crafting tips. They don’t get a sale out of it, but they might get a customer as the link to their generous blogpost gets passed around.

10. Supporting each other.

Mociun/Shabd fall 2011 | Wikstenmade


So if you run a business selling goods online, what can you learn from these handcraft mavens?

1. Invest each item with a narrative. Update your copy to tell your goods’ story.

2. Empathise with your purchasers. What do they need to know to purchase with peace of mind? Put yourself in their place and make sure your copy answers potential questions.

3. Styling with personality. Dispense with dull or anonymous stock photos and let the personality of you or your brand infuse your styling.

4. Encourage positive personal interactions. View emails as opportunities and not chores. Ensure you have systems in place to have humans (rather than auto-responders) regularly read and reply helpfully to questions.

5. Talk about yourself. What kind of person are you, or in the case of larger companies, what kind of person loves your brand? Give customers an insight into real lives where the brand plays a happy and inspiring role.

6. Open up your inspiration. Show you care about the creative aspects of your business, not just dollars, by being open with your moodboard.

7. Help your customers appreciate you; appreciate your customers. Ask people to send in their feedback and photos – share it on your blog or Twitter.

8. The packaging is part of it. Don’t overwrap objects or use anonymous Post Office packing. Try to include a personal touch, not just an invoice.

9. Open with their expertise. What can you give your fans to both thank them and show your expertise?

10. Supporting each other. Lastly, take a leaf from the blogosphere’s book, and generously link to things you like that the rest of your industry are doing, and style your items with a judicious mix of other likeminded designers’ items.