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Watch where you point your head! Google Glass begs for new etiquette

Google Glass
Mathew Sumner / Getty Images File

It's reasonable that Google Glass — the futuristic headgear from the search engine giant — will be banned in places that ban cameras. It's also understandable that people will be uncomfortable around a gadget that can snap photos, chime in with messages and cause untold other social disruptions.

So it's at least some small comfort that the first people to get the invention — the so-called "Glass Explorers" — are already thinking of ways to make it less of a social stigma, before it becomes widely available at the end of 2013.

"We're going to have to work it out as a society, as we always do," said Noble Ackerson, a member of the Explorers. "When we first had cellphones, there were certain rules that we now take for granted. Like not answering a call during dinner or something like that. Or in a meeting you wouldn't get up and start talking. We have that understanding with cellphones."

Ackerson isn't a Google employee, but by preordering Glass during the Google I/O 2012 conference, the software developer was admitted to the Explorers program and invited to the "Glass Foundry" developer gatherings. Eager early adopter that he is, Ackerson nevertheless anticipates the social awkwardness of this new technology. In order to expedite behaviors he predicts will become "social norms," he has created a collection of "Glass Etiquette" cards.

"Do not record your spouse during spousal disputes," one of the cards cautions. "You will be single before long if you do."

"[Glass] has a camera and it could be on," Ackerson pointed out. "There are certain things that go without saying, but we have to remind ourselves. This thing has a camera, but — whether you intend to use it or not — you might not want to have it in the bathroom."

Some more pearls of wisdom from Ackerson and his fellow Explorers:

  • "Don't use Glass in the locker room or restroom. Others may get extra paranoid during private situations."
  • "Some venues are probably never going to be Glass friendly, this includes the movie theatre."
  • "Get the consent of the person you are about to record or take a picture of."
  • "Explain and educate. Do not be all secretive with it. That causes paranoia."
  • "Be smart, but be safe. If you see something suspicious or illegal you can capture it with Glass, but don't put yourself in harm's way in the process."

"We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues," a Google spokesperson said, adding that members of the Glass Explorers program, like Ackerson, will be "active participants in shaping the future of this technology."

While testing Glass, Googlers came up with ways to show others that they are fully involved in a conversation, or to reassure someone of confidentiality. One move is dubbed "the Californian" and it involves sliding Glass to the top of one's head, like a headband or pair of sunglasses. Another is called "the LeBeau" — presumably after Mike LeBeau, an engineer working on Project Glass — and it consists of switching Glass off and draping it across the back of your neck, with the display and camera pointing behind you.

Of course, it won't just be the Google Glass wearers who need to be careful. We will all have to worry about who's using Google Glass around us. As the technology grows in popularity and shrinks in size, that won't be easy.

Drew Donofrio, a private investigator who previously ran a computer crimes unit at the Bergen County, N.J., police department, told NBC News that, in addition to its possible uses for criminals, he fears Google Glass will lead to uncomfortable situations between friends and colleagues.

In the past, if you had an awkward soda spill or similar, your friends might point and laugh before helping you clean up. Now, with Google Glass coming soon to a face near you, "someone trips and it's on YouTube and suddenly everyone's laughing and commenting."

Whatever happens, it's clear that Google Glass etiquette begins where smartphone etiquette leaves off.

"This must be going well — I haven't checked my phone all evening," my date remarked a few evenings ago, as I slid my iPhone back into my purse. I'd ignored the buzzing gadget until he'd stepped away to use the restroom, only surrendering to curiosity and that "Oh, God! What if it's something important?" feeling in his brief absence.

Had I been wearing Glass, what then? Would that lovely evening have been dotted with subtle peeks at the device's in-your-face display? Or would I have done a "Californian" and propped it atop my head to show I was really paying attention? Who knows? Maybe one day, taking off your Google Glass headset will be the ultimate sign of affection.

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