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See Inside Scientific American Volume 308, Issue 6

How Not to Be Crass Wearing Google's Glass

Four rules of engagement for using Google's wearable smart device in public
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Flickr/swissnexsanfrancisco/Peter Thoeny

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This month, my Scientific American column took a look at the prospects for Google Glass, Google's futuristic, eye-mounted, pseudo-smartphone thing. Frankly, Glass's greatest vulnerability isn't that it may fail technologically, it's that it may fail socially. How comfortable will you be when you're conversing with someone who may or may not be filming you?

At least one business has already banned Google Glass, in an effort to avoid making all the non-Glass customers uncomfortable. And already, organizations like StoptheCyborgs.org hope to stop Glass and avoid "a future in which privacy is impossible."

But perhaps what the world needs is something a little less hasty, a little more considered: an etiquette guide for the new world of wearable computing.

Rule 1. Tell people when you're filming them. Taking pictures or videos with Glass is not like using a camera or a phone; any of those gadgets alert others that you're recording simply because you're holding it up. Glass offers no indication that you're filming except a subtle red light (which an app could turn off anyway) and no indication at all that you've captured a still photo.

So rule 1 is that it's your job to tell people when you're about to take their picture.

Rule 2. No Glass when you're face to face. Wear them hiking, biking, skydiving, playing with your toddler—all the places you see them used in Google promotional videos. But when you're interacting with somebody, push Glass up onto your head like sunglasses. Not only does that prevent you from secretly filming and surreptitiously checking your e-mail, it also demonstrates some sensitivity on your part in acknowledging that Glass glasses are creepy.

So: No Glass at dinner. No Glass at a party. And no Glass on dates. Then again, that problem is self-correcting; nobody would go out with you if you show up wearing them.

Rule 3. No Glass wherever cameras are already prohibited. Art museums, movie theaters, courtrooms, Broadway shows, corporate whiteboards, government agencies, etcetera. In a world where you might be secretly taking pictures or videos, you'd better believe this will become the rule before you can say, "Please put that away, sir."

Rule 4. No Glass in potential ogling situations. Put them away in the locker room, even if you don't intend to use them. It's just awkward for you to be in a position where you could be recording other people's flab.

You'd best not wear them at the pool or the beach, either. Attractive people wearing bathing suits will instantly assume you're a pervert.

It's even uncool to wear them in situations where you could be filming strangers—on the subway, for example. And even if "uncool" doesn't bother you, getting slapped or gut-punched might.

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