Harnessing Chaos Constructively: Glass Through Indian Eyes
January 5, 2014
Posted in India
“Are those Google Goggles?” a man called out to me, five minutes after walking out of my hotel in Mumbai.
It took me a moment to register that he’d correctly identified Glass and then I confirmed, “Yes! Except they’re called Google Glass.” Giddy, his eyes lit up. He had just been at a presentation on the future of augmented reality two days ago where he was introduced to Glass.
Guatam Kirtane works at a public policy think tank, Observer Research Foundation Mumbai. He told me that India can use technology like Glass for navigation help, in augmented realty, machine assembly and applied DIY–all projects needing guided instruction. With Glass instruction could be tailored to individual learners.
Applying Glass to real problems is the theme repeated over and over in India. I was wildly impressed with how much India knew about Glass, how excited they were by it and how they saw beyond its initial flash (Spain) and intrusiveness (Central Europe) to find its soul in problem solving. Need an app for it? India will build it.
In the crowded streets of Mumbai people of all ages approached me about Glass, asking when it would be released in India, what its cost was—and when the price would drop… The energy there was intoxicating and the chaos almost overwhelming: thousands upon thousands of people, cars, rickshaws, animals all contesting for an inch to move about. Yet there are few accidents here and this is a good reminder for Glass. Chaos seems disorderly, as if it dissipates energy. But chaos is also energy producing and exciting. It just needs to be harnessed well and this is the right milieu for Glass to develop its potential. In Berlin the streets are orderly. Forget crossing while the signal is red; you’d get a death stare for even contemplating it. But in Mumbai, all bets are off as the reward goes to the most ingenious. In a way, the chaos reminds people here that there are problems to be solved… while too much order can produce less incentive to be creative.
From Mumbai, I headed south to Goa, the old Portuguese colony and now a top beach vacation destination for Indian and international tourists. People welcomed Glass in Goa. Imagine the look on the face of my taxi driver as I clambered in to the car with Glass astride my nose. In his best but broken English he asked for me to photograph him with Glass!
My objective in Goa was to get a DJ to wear my Glass on stage at the Sunburn Music Festival. I thought I’d have my work cut out for me, but I proved myself wrong. All it took was a few curious security guards to introduce me to people who coordinated the entire event. I sweetened their interest by letting them try Glass and I was in—to stage access that is. It was my job to find a DJ who would wear Glass on stage.
Day two and luck strikes! DJ Shaan agreed to wear Glass on stage. He wanted his own Glass (as did all the DJs ultimately) but I had the only pair at the festival. So, wala! DJ Shan wears my titanium (video here). My real goal at this point was to get the festival’s lead act, Axwell, to wear Glass. After some demos and conversation, he said he would only wear his own Glass on stage (someone— send him an invite!)
So what did I learn in India? I learned that Glass (or any innovative wearable technology) has enormous potential here and India has a lot to offer Glass. One reason why Glass could be a hit is simply that Indians love to take photos with their phones. Photos of their surroundings, of family, of tourists, of anything and everything. They have no problem approaching you to ask to take your photo and particularly intriguing was asking to take the photo of a tourist with Glass. They showed none of the reluctance about Glass over privacy issues. This makes sense in a land where human density is so high that personal privacy is not presumed. But Indians also did not ask—and unlike their European counterparts—about government vigilance.
The main other potential for Glass in India lies in its marriage to software. India is a land full of software engineers and their excitement was palpable over adapting Glass through apps to problems in their lives needing to be solved and opportunities to be opened.
This desire, however, and it’s a big however, hits smack into India’s lack of technological infrastructure. The Internet was slow in Mumbai, then scarce and slower in Goa. Even Whatsapp failed locally! I could barely handle day-to-day matters with a mobile hot spot let alone enjoy Google maps on my specs. Speaking of Google maps, Google Glass might be the solution to a place with no official addresses…
To find a place in Goa (and it’s not unique; Costa Rica, Nicaragua and other countries are the same), you have to reference a landmark such as a shop, gas station or even long defunct theater. With Glass people could navigate more easily to those landmarks, with images associated with the “addresses” popping up on the display.
In sum, the key here is price. iPhones are scarce and Androids are everywhere because of their low cost. Glass and other wearable technologies will go big here, not just because of demographics but because people here want to adapt them to their needs. It’s the constructive energy behind the apparent chaos. You just have to go beneath the surface to see, and feel, it.