After afternoon with Google Glass, the unnerving truth: It can get awkward

Interview subject Tammy Kahn Fennell was unnerved by the Glass.
Interview subject Tammy Kahn Fennell was unnerved by the Glass.

There are two sides to the Google Glass experience: that of the wearer, and that of everyone who encounters a person (cyborg?) who appears to have stepped off the set of Star Trek.

From my view behind the Glass on a recent afternoon, I was alternately wowed by its capabilities and frustrated by its deficiencies. The intriguing, wearable computer could find and direct me to the nearest Mexican restaurant — putting a tiny map in the corner of my right eye that adjusted to every turn of my head — but could not compose a tweet. Even popcorn machines can tweet these days.

I’ll dive deeper into my own perspective in a forthcoming story, but for now I want to focus on the polarizing effect the Glass seems to have on people who are seen, but do not see, through it.

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I tested the Glass as a first-person video camera during a couple of interviews with entrepreneurs at Workbar in Cambridge. With impressive picture clarity (though with no ability to zoom), the Glass recorded my conversations exactly as I saw them — a handy reporting tool, and one that put Investors Beat founder Shelli Trung at ease.

“I actually think it’s a bit more intimate,” said Trung, whose company publishes a real estate investment magazine. “There’s no camera guy. I feel like I’m just having a chat with you. It’s very natural, actually.”

But when I sat down with social media strategy consultant Tammy Kahn Fennell, founder of MarketMeSuite, I got a very different reaction.

“It’s a little weird,” Fennell told me. “I’ve done plenty of on-camera interviews, and I’m more comfortable with a giant lens next to me because I’m used to dealing with it.”

Particularly unnerving, Fennell explained, is the fact that she could see my miniature screen light up as the camera rolled. “I feel like if the light wasn’t on, I wouldn’t care as much,” she said. “It would just put the other person at ease, ‘cuz then it doesn’t just look like you have a weird dorky thing on your face. Let’s be honest: They’re a little dorky.”

They can also appear slightly threatening, according to John Rodley, the Scituate entrepreneur who loaned me his Glass and who aims to put it to use in hospitals through his startup, Farlo. Rodley is, obviously, a Glass enthusiast, but he admits that discomfort for people on the other side is a significant barrier to mass adoption.

Indeed, some people I passed on the street seemed unnerved by the Glass, unsure if I was using it to photograph or record them.

“Think of it this way,” Rodley said. “If someone walked around pointing a gun at you, would it matter to you whether they intended to shoot you?”