A Closer Look at Google Glass’ & Microsoft HoloLens’ Concept Videos, and Surveillance Concerns

This is part 2 in a 3 part series of posts based on work I presented at Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) this year on analyzing concept videos. Read part 1, part 3, or find out more about the project on the project page or download the full paper

In this post, I walk through our close reading of the Glass and HoloLens concept videos and how they imagine potential futures. I then discuss how this analysis can be used to think about surveillance issues and other values associated with these representations of the future.

Google Glass Concept Video

Google’s concept video “Project Glass: One Day…” was released on April 4, 2012. The video portrays a day in the life of a male Glass user, as he makes his way around New York City. The video follows a single wearer throughout the day in New York City from when he wakes up until sunset. This video is shot entirely in a first person point of view, putting the video viewer in the place of a person wearing Glass.

Take a look at the video below. While you’re watching, pay attention to:

  • What the device looks like
  • Where are the contexts and settings of use
  • Who is the user

You can see how the video is shot in a first person point of view right away. As for what the device looks like – that was a bit of a trick question! The entire video is shot from this first person point of view, but never shows what the device actually looks like. This suggests that the device is worn all the time, and not taken on and off between interactions with it.

For contexts of use he was walking in the street, at a bookstore, meeting a friend at a food truck, and making a video call outdoors. Notably, except for the beginning at home, all of the settings of use take place in public or semi-public spaces, mostly outdoors.

Looking at the singular user, it also starts to portray a picture about who Glass users might be – a young white male, rather affluent, and has the ability to have a nice apartment and spend a leisurely day in New York City (rather than working. Presumably, seeing the businessmen walking in the street near the beginning of the video, it might be a weekday).

This video begins to portray Glass as a device something that seems to fade into the background, is always worn and always turned on throughout the day, and used across many contexts by one person. Glass is framed as a device that invisibly fits into the daily life patterns of an individual. It is highly mobile, and augments a user’s ability to communicate, navigate, and gather contextual information from his or her surroundings.

Microsoft HoloLens Concept Video

Microsoft’s concept video “Microsoft HoloLens – Transform your world with holograms” was released on January 21, 2015. It shows HoloLens as a set of head worn goggles that projects holograms around the user. The video imagines various settings in which different users may use HoloLens’ augmented reality holograms, depicting a number of different people doing different tasks.

Take a look at the video below. Again, let’s try to pay attention to:

  • What the device looks like
  • Where are the contexts and settings of use
  • Who are the users

The third person point of view is pretty apparent (though some scenes switch briefly into a first person point of view). This third person allows us to see what the actual HoloLens device might look like. It appears similar to a large pair of black ski goggles.

The context and settings of use of HoloLens are all indoors, taking either in an office or home. Furthermore, the video shows multiple users each doing a single task in a different location: a woman uses HoloLens to design a motorcycle at work, while separately a man uses it to play Minecraft at home.

The video shows multiple users of HoloLens. There are multiple male and female users, although some stereotypical gender roles are reinforced, such as a male assisting a female to fix a sink. Users of HoloLens are portrayed as adults in the professional working class.

The video begins to portray HoloLens as a device that’s used for particular tasks and activities, and isn’t worn all the time as it’s large and bulky. Most of its uses are indoors, centered around the office or home. HoloLens is not used by one person for doing everything in multiple places, but rather it is used by many people for doing one thing in specific places. Potential HoloLens users are those in the professional working class.

Understanding Surveillance Concerns through the Videos

These videos are one way in which people are started to form ideas about what these new technologies will do, for whom, by what means. (Remember that these concept videos were released over a year before people in the public would have any actual access to be able to use these devices).  People began to associate values and narratives with these technologies.

We can see how a close reading of the concept videos’ imagining of the future can surface a discussion of values in imagined futures; here we focus on surveillance concerns.

There are a couple of things in the video portrayals that make it easier to see Glass as a privacy-infringing surveillance device moreso than HoloLens. Glass is portrayed as invisible and always on, with the potential to always record in any location or context, presenting possible surveillance concerns. The video only shows one person wearing Glass during the entire time, which suggests some power imbalance between the augmented capabilities the wearer gets compared to everyone else who doesn’t get to wear Glass.

HoloLens is depicted as a very visible and very bulky thing that can be easily seen. Furthermore, a lot of different people get to wear it as well in the video, and they’re seen putting it on and taking it off, so it’s not setting up the same type of power imbalance between the wearer and non-wearer with Glass. Here, everyone is a wearer and non-wearer of HoloLens. Its use is also seemingly limited to a few specific places – at work or at home, so it’s not portrayed as a device that could record anything at any time.

The close reading of the videos and the analysis of the media articles helps give us some insight into the ways values like privacy were portrayed and debated. This is important, because the videos don’t necessarily set out to say “we’re going to show something that violates privacy or upholds it,” but the values are more latent, implicit, and embedded within the narratives of the video. This type of critical analysis or close reading of concept videos allows us to explore these implicit values.

Next, read Part 3, Speculative and Anticipatory Orientations Towards the Future

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