Seeing the World Through Rose Colored Google Glasses: Wearables & the Digital Divide

As a Xoogler, Google shareholder and technology geek I couldn’t be more excited about Google Glass. Confirmed to be released this year at a pricepoint under $1500, Glass will attempt to make digital wearables and augmented reality a mainstream phenomena. But its four figure pricetag will surely be out of reach for most citizens, turning the first year of live Glass videos feeds into a tv station for the 1% containing extreme sports, exotic locations, hipster brunches and electric car POVs.

Sure as production volume increases and component prices fall Glass (and similar digital wearables) will become more affordable, but in the meantime the gap between those who can afford v1 and those who wait for v5 (or vNever) creates a new type of pernicious digital divide.

1) 10,000 Hour Rule
Malcolm Gladwell popularized this theory that it takes 10,000 hours or practice to become an expert. Anyone who gets a headstart with Glass – whether developing for the platform or mastering it as a user – starts building this advantage.

2) Augmented Reality Favors the Connected
A world where object and person recognition creates an augmented reality in front of our eyes. The less deep and public your digital footprint, the less discoverable you are. If you’re unknown to the system, you’re unknown to wearer. Imagine a future where the homeless and the disconnected are symbolically invisible to you because Glass can’t identify them. Do we leave ourselves open to a new type of subtle exclusion where because it’s so powerful to have instant information on our friends, friends of friends, etc that anyone who falls outside of this transparent social network is not to be trusted? That is, today we see someone on the street and don’t know their relationship to us. Once that becomes instantly digitally available, how do we react towards those who have no current connection to our social graph?

3) Big Data. Incomplete Data
If Glass owners don’t represent a true cross-section of the population, Google will be getting incomplete data. The geographies, faces, voices, activities Glass records will be demographically narrow. As if the company had sent Google Maps cars to only wealthy neighborhoods.

As news leaked that Google has contacted Warby Parker about possibly designing Glass frames, I recalled Warby has a “Get a Pair, Give a Pair” program where they donate glasses to needy recipients for each pair purchased. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Google and Warby found a way to get Glass in the hands of engineering students, teachers, and lower income school districts from the start?

It’s a tough question – one which is too easy to respond with statements like “the poor don’t need smart glasses, they need food, shelter and jobs” or “just like smartphones are now owned by more than the 1%, technology and market forces move fast enough to create a level playing field.” Instead, I’d love to see Google, and other manufacturers of digital wearables, recognize the issues and conceive of more aggressive and innovative ways to open new hardware technology to the broadest population possible.