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USC forum reflects on potential of Google Glass

by Greg Asciutto

Google Glass, a revolutionary product that uses a lens to immerse users in the digital world, provided a possible view into the future of storytelling at a USC event held on Aug. 27.

Before a packed room of people eager to see the product in action, a panel of USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism faculty and researchers shared their experiences.

“Living your life through your phone is kind of clunky,” said Professor Robert Hernandez, who has been exploring ways to use Google Glass for storytelling and journalism, chronicling those experiences on Tumblr and Twitter. “This allows you to engage with the world, be hands-free, participate and share your experiences that way.”

Along with Professor Marcia Dawkins and doctoral students Alex Leavitt and Francesca Marie Smith, Hernandez is among 6,000 individuals who were invited by Google to test the device.

“I’m looking at how it will affect journalism from the creation side,” said Hernandez, who led the forum and answered questions from a curious audience. “In order to create that content, you have to be a developer, and I’m trying to find ways to climb over that barrier and find different platforms.”

Hernandez noted that while many in the media industry view Glass as an intrusive gimmick, its potential value is too promising to overlook.

“Quite honestly, when has journalism ever benefited from ignoring or dismissing technology?” he asked. “Someone’s got to play with it and figure it out.”

The Glass “explorers” reviewed its built-in functions — photography, video-taking and integration with a range of Google products, including Google Plus and Android — and demonstrated how quickly and easily users can share digital content.

Leavitt showed a Glass video of himself riding a bike down Wilshire Boulevard — within 10 seconds, he also snapped a photo of the audience, uploaded it to Facebook and shared it with his followers.
Using a third-party application, Hernandez published a similar photo on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the forum was streamed live via Google Hangouts, a digital meeting place where individuals from around the world could tune in and contribute to the conversation.

“One of the things I want to do with Glass is see how we can use it in a classroom, not only capturing students’ perspectives but my own as an instructor,” Dawkins said. “I’m very interested in looking at … how it is able to tell stories about diversity and technology that show how our world may or may not be changing.”

Smith, who is working with the Annenberg Innovation Lab to enhance the sensory experiences of moviegoers, added, “What I’m really interested in at the moment is a project about consumption of media through Glass, particularly the question of accessibility.”

Public accessibility is a major question mark for Glass, which relies heavily upon Internet connection and user familiarity with Google’s circle of products.

“This is so uni-central because all their products point to this,” Hernandez said.

“My Gmail is here, my calendar, Google Now, the maps are here and Google Plus is here. In order for me to take advantage of this, I have to get an Android.”

The potential success of the device in the global market depends upon whether academics and developers can demonstrate that Glass can transcend the label of a “status item.”

“Glass has a camera and can take video, but if you come at it from a media specificity perspective, that’s what lots of other technologies can do,” Leavitt said.

“How exactly can we augment that video with other data that it can track?”

“It doesn’t necessarily have a unique niche in my life [where] it does one thing better than what my phone, iPad or computer does,” Smith said. “If I want to send an email, unless I really want to show off and be cocky, I’m going to sit down at my computer. That’s not going to be that way for very long. It’s up to us to start creating demand and creating applications to make it indispensable — that’s going to happen in a matter of months.”

The panel also tackled the question of how Glass changes privacy in both public and private spaces.

“Glass gets people thinking about the surveillance that we are all pretty much always under,” Smith said. “I could be filming [now], but it would be a little obvious.”

Serhan Ulkumen, an international relations student with an interest in new technology, attended the forum.

“There are always going to be the overeager, early adopters, as well as the skeptics who think technology is moving too fast and leaving them behind,” he said. “This is why it was important for the Annenberg forum to have this session.”

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