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Can Google Glass Bring Wearable Tech to Politics?

 

Beware the Borg...

Beware the Borg…

The topic of Google Glass and other wearable tech was hot at South by Southwest Interactive this year…not that I saw more than one or two people actually USING Google’s information-displaying, photo-taking “glasses” in the crowd. But NPR’s Don Gonyea is looking ahead to a time when technology at least similar to Google Glass could become a political tool, and he’s found at least one potential innovator already:

But at this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference I encountered something I’d not seen before: an activist working the bustling hallways wearing Google Glass.

“I’m trying to figure out ways activists can use it in the field,” says Peter Ildefonso, a 25-year-old Republican and software developer from Severna Park, Md.

Ildefonso works for the nonprofit Leadership Institute, which trains young conservatives. In a webinar, two members of their team discuss Google Glass and its uses as a tool to capture video of the opposition at public events and rallies. They cite its advantages over a cellphone camera and its ability to capture more footage while moving around more freely, “without being as obvious.”

Recording video for opposition research is a useful task, but being slightly less obvious by performing it with Google Glass is hardly revolutionary. Gonyea also talks with Betsy Hoover (270 Strategies) and friend-of-Epolitics Danield Kreiss, who bring up wearable tech’s potential to improve field organizing and grassroots outreach (at SXSW, field was the primary potential application I considered as well).

But as Kreiss points out, we still don’t know if Google Glass will end up on everyone’s face or not — it could still fall completely flat. And if remains a niche product, using wearable tech for field organizing is likely to break a fundamental rule of politics: don’t weird people out. I.e., even at tech-heavy SXSW I heard people talking about feeling uncomfortable around someone wearing Google Glass because they weren’t sure if they were being photographed or not. Can you imagine how a voter might feel if when a volunteer shows up on the doorstep doing his or her best impression of a Borg soldier?

Google Glass MIGHT take off behind the scenes, though: what if a data visualization overlay could help field organizers cut turf and monitor teams’ locations? But tablets and laptops are pretty efficient at tasks like this now, and cell phone apps are already putting powerful tools (like NGPVAN’s MiniVAN) in grassroots volunteers’ hands. I’d argue that the potential for wearable tech to make a difference in politics is there, but it’s still far from obvious or inevitable — and for any kind of voter-facing use, it will depend on how widely Google Glass seeps into the general public because of that “weird” factor. Let’s see how this one shakes out.

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