Speaking Glass

To coincide with the launch of Antenna's first Google Glass experience our content designer, Christine Murray, writes about 'speaking' glass.

"OK Glass", what is Google Glass?

 Google Glass is a type of wearable technology - an advanced computer worn like eyeglasses. The simplest way to describe the experience is that Glass superimposes visuals on top of what you’re looking at in real time. It doesn’t superimpose images over your entire field of vision – instead, the upper right corner of your line-of-sight looks like a mini drive-in movie screen floating in space. Glass can project still images, text, graphics, and video on this screen, and simultaneously play audio (through the bone of your skull – via the bone-conducting stem of the glasses - but that’s another post). For the record, Glass does many, many other things too.

 

Christine Murray sees Haring with Google Glass.

Christine Murray sees Haring with Google Glass.

 

How do you create content for Glass?

Hmmm. You start by asking questions. Then you ask harder ones.

Here’s one example of how it can work from the tour I just created for Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for Keith Haring: The Political Line. Imagine entering a small, dark, tunnel-like space, filled with chalk drawings on black poster paper – early graffiti that Keith Haring made in subway stations around New York. While you wander through the space looking at these works, you are hearing the sounds of subway trains through your Glass, merging into eyewitness accounts of this “skinny guy in glasses” jumping off trains, drawing quickly in chalk, jumping back on the next departing train. As you look at the works, candid snapshots occasionally appear in your line of sight of “the skinny guy in glasses” captured in flagrante delicto, chalk in hand. And then, while you explore further, a CBS newsreel shows transit police arriving and arresting the artist for defacing public property.   As they (virtually) haul him away, there you are, in real time, standing amongst the evidence.

 

Artist Keith Haring Arrested in NYC Subway

Artist Keith Haring Arrested in NYC Subway

 

So, what can Glass do that other devices can’t?

I’ve had numerous conversations with curators and educators who are deeply excited by the idea that with Glass, visitors can access all kinds of multimedia content without ever having to “look away from the art.” And this is true. Glass creates a hands-free, media-rich experience with nothing standing between you and a piece of art. No headphones, no player, no buttons to push. As you are looking at or hearing about an artwork, your eyes only have to glance slightly upwards to pick up extra images and enhanced information. There is no more “look down at your screen...” When done well, this extra information pops into view to be absorbed in a totally organic way.

But there’s a potential flip side to this coin. Visual clutter.  Information overload. Distraction. Loss of agency. For better or worse, a handheld device gives you options. When information appears on its screen, you can choose to engage with it or ignore it. Not so with Glass. When something pops into your line of sight, you can’t NOT see it.   If you avert your gaze, the mini drive-in screen goes with you.

It’s the old adage: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Cue those hard questions I mentioned earlier.

 

Artist Keith Haring makes chalk art drawings in the NYC subway

Artist Keith Haring makes chalk art drawings in the NYC subway

 

Making critical decisions

The first-level question might be “Wouldn’t it be cool to show the artist making this work?”   But the harder question is: “Does seeing the artist making this work actually make the story we’re telling more meaningful?”   If you are looking at a giant piece of Keith Haring’s graffiti, do you also need to see an image of graffiti-strewn New York City from that same era? Is that taking you to a new place of understanding you couldn’t get to otherwise?  And when you’re dealing with a major celebrity like Keith Haring, it’s not enough to ask which of the thousands of images of him are relevant. Which ones are necessary? And trickier yet, when exactly should they pop up on Glass? For how long?  And how many images can appear before they feel like an annoying fly buzzing around in your peripheral vision?

 

Creating a holistic experience

For me, as a writer and content designer, it’s all about choreography. The dance between the ear and the eye.   The space and the body. The patterns, the themes, the solos, the lifts, the transitions, the leaps, the quietude, the exits. The goal is…grace.  Some alchemical combination of deft writing, compelling audio, intuitive technology, rich images, and contextual information that seems to appear magically just when you need it – before you even know you need it – and then disappears just when you want to go back to a private moment between you and whatever you’re looking at.

 

GuidiGO for Glass

GuidiGO for Glass

 

Asking more questions
These are early days with Glass. As a tool, it has numerous possibilities, and lots of challenges. I’m still asking loads of questions about it. I’d really like to be able to synch Glass experiences between visitors. I‘d like to experiment with Glass-driven flashmobs and other activities. Scavenger hunts using image recognition would feel super-cool if you could unlock content with a wink. As we all know, taking pictures is everyone’s favorite activity, so the camera is something I’d like to explore more. Interestingly, since the camera lens faces out, there are no selfies with Glass. Picture-taking would have to be a coordinated activity with a friend or some other Glass-wearing visitor, which I think has tons of potential – in my idea notes, I call this “Selfies Squared!” I’ll report back from time to time as I learn more.

- author