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Death by notification: will Google Glass drown us in data?

Death by notification: will Google Glass drown us in data?


Google should tread lightly, or Glass might become Growl for your face

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Let's face it: we're all pretty horrible at turning off push notifications on our smartphones. You install an app, give it permission to notify you with updates, and before you know it, your phone's buzzing like a beehive with status updates, tagged photos, and friends checking in nearby. The definition of "urgent" is becoming harder and harder to define. According to Google's Timothy Jordan, Google Glass is all about "getting technology out of the way," but if his keynote yesterday was any indication, Glass could easily become just another screen, buzzing, beeping, and vying for our attention. When that screen is on your face, it's impossible to ignore.

Glass could easily become just another screen, buzzing, beeping, and vying for our attention

At a presentation for potential Glass developers at SXSW, Jordan demoed various kinds of push notifications and interactions in Google Glass. The company's "Mirror API" makes it simple to subscribe to notifications from services like The New York Times and social networking app Path. The Times service, for example, can be configured to push breaking news straight to your Glass headset. A headline will appear on Glass, which you can select by tapping the device's trackpad or just by looking up. Jordan hinted that you'll be able to have Glass read articles aloud to you if you're on the go.


Subscribing to Path, on the other hand, pushes photos your friends take to your Glass headset, at which point you can respond using text or an emoticon. "It's a great experience on Glass since it doesn't get in the way," Jordan said. "I get these pictures as my friends take them, and since it's Path, it's only people I know really well." But isn't that the way Path works on smartphones? In this scenario, Glass is relegated to the function of a smart watch like Pebble, a notification center for anything and everything.

A final example is Gmail, which can be configured to push messages it has marked as "Important" to your Glass headset. Email messages are undeniably less obtrusive than photos, but the point is the same: do we want to live in a future where during every conversation, friends' eyes wander up and to the right to check that important work email? At least when friends check their phones, it's obvious that they're checking their phone. With Glass, ironically, it might be less clear where their attention lies. When notifications stream to your face every few minutes, or even every hour, its going to be difficult to avoid becoming a "Glasshole."


While Jordan's examples are 100 percent "tech demos," his keynote serves as lens as to how Google sees the utility of Glass aside from taking photos, looking up words, and getting directions. There's no doubt that Glass apps will allow a fine degree of customization for how and when notifications arrive, but so do iPhone and Android apps. The trouble is, most of us choose to ignore these settings and face a steady barrage of notifications for emails, Twitter mentions, and a dozen other apps. Since Glass is on your face, these notifications will be even more disruptive. "This isn't innovative!" one audience member exclaimed during a Q&A session following Jordan's talk. He said, "I don't want to post more social network crap!" The audience roared in approval.