“For the past two weeks, I’ve been using a new camera to secretly snap photos and record videos of strangers in parks, on trains, inside stores and at restaurants,” writes a reporter for the New York Times. They were testing the recently released $300 Ray-Ban Meta glasses — “I promise it was all in the name of journalism” — which also includes microphones (and speakers, for listening to audio).
They call the device “part of a broader ambition in Silicon Valley to shift computing away from smartphone and computer screens and toward our faces.”
Meta, Apple and Magic Leap have all been hyping mixed-reality headsets that use cameras to allow their software to interact with objects in the real world. On Tuesday, Zuckerberg posted a video on Instagram demonstrating how the smart glasses could use AI to scan a shirt and help him pick out a pair of matching pants. Wearable face computers, the companies say, could eventually change the way we live and work… While I was impressed with the comfortable, stylish design of the glasses, I felt bothered by the implications for our privacy…
To inform people that they are being photographed, the Ray-Ban Meta glasses include a tiny LED light embedded in the right frame to indicate when the device is recording. When a photo is snapped, it flashes momentarily. When a video is recording, it is continuously illuminated. As I shot 200 photos and videos with the glasses in public, including on BART trains, on hiking trails and in parks, no one looked at the LED light or confronted me about it. And why would they? It would be rude to comment on a stranger’s glasses, let alone stare at them… [A] Meta spokesperson, said the company took privacy seriously and designed safety measures, including a tamper-detection technology, to prevent users from covering up the LED light with tape.
But another concern was how smart glasses might impact our ability to focus:
Even when I wasn’t using any of the features, I felt distracted while wearing them… I had problems concentrating while driving a car or riding a scooter. Not only was I constantly bracing myself for opportunities to shoot video, but the reflection from other car headlights emitted a harsh, blue strobe effect through the eyeglass lenses. Meta’s safety manual for the Ray-Bans advises people to stay focused while driving, but it doesn’t mention the glare from headlights. While doing work on a computer, the glasses felt unnecessary because there was rarely anything worth photographing at my desk, but a part of my mind constantly felt preoccupied by the possibility…
Ben Long, a photography teacher in San Francisco, said he was skeptical about the premise of the Meta glasses helping people remain present. “If you’ve got the camera with you, you’re immediately not in the moment,” he said. “Now you’re wondering, Is this something I can present and record?”
The reporter admits they’ll fondly cherish its photos of their dog [including in the original article], but “the main problem is that the glasses don’t do much we can’t already do with phones… while these types of moments are truly precious, that benefit probably won’t be enough to convince a vast majority of consumers to buy smart glasses and wear them regularly, given the potential costs of lost privacy and distraction.”