Google Glass Case Study

Google Glass Case Study

by: Sara Levine

I had not encountered Google Glass until very recently (in other words, when Professor Irvine mentioned it) and was surprised to find that there have already been a number of articles and video parodies in existence despite the fact that not many people have come into contact with the product. However, the news features surrounding Google Glass do not delve deeply into the product’s function as a media artefact.

The Ultimate Black Box

How does Google Glass work, exactly? If an interested potential buyer visits the Google Glass website, she or he may not find a definitive answer. The promotional video shows how “cool” the product is and demonstrates what it will be able to do, but it does not include technical details. Head-mounted displays (HMD) are not particularly innovative, but Google Glass seems lighter and sleeker than previous models. Its minimalist design suggests that users will not have easy access to the hardware behind Google Glass. If it breaks, it won’t be a simple case of cracking open the frame and checking “under the hood,” so to speak. There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the marketing behind Google Glass, and I would expect that its users will not be bothered with specifications unless it malfunctions. If potential buyers do some extra research outside of promotional materials, they may find that several developers have broken down most of Google’s recently released specifications into more comprehensible explanations. The explanations provided on are written for users who are fluent in code, but they also de-blackbox parts of Google Glass that had previously been shrouded in mystery.

Media in Media

Manovich wrote that a metamedium uses “already existing representational formats as their building blocks, while adding many new previously nonexistent properties. At the same time…these media are expandable – that is, users themselves should be able to easily add new properties, as well as to invent new media (Manovich 23).” Bolton and Grusin wrote that “each month seems to bring new evidence of the voracity with which new media are refashioning the established media and reinventing themselves in the quest for immediacy (Bolter and Grusin 267).” So, is Google Glass just another recombination of “new media,” or a “metamedium” that has the potential for growth? It has been hailed by TIME Magazine as one of the “Best Inventions of the Year 2012,” but it seems as though Google Glass has been lauded for technological innovations that it cannot lay claim to. Google Glass is not, for example, the first instance of Google software. It seems to be a new recombination of software and media forms that Google has already introduced. It also contains the technology used in film, photography, audio, GPS, voice recognition, and Internet access.


On the other hand, Google Glass may have the potential to become a “metamedium” as Manovich described it. At the time that I am writing this blog post Google has released details about API and sample code for users to start experimenting with and build their own programs for Google Glass software. The “Glassware” website contains a few sources for developers, as well as introductory videos for several different programmable aspects of Google Glass. Additionally, there is a “Playground” for developers to test out code in if they have not yet been able to get their hands on Google Glass. Consequently, there is the potential for users to “add new properties” and create new software for Google Glass.

Google Glass is marketed and presented to users as software. Manovich wrote in “Software Takes Command” that “We live in a software culture – that is, a culture where the production, distribution, and reception of most content – and increasingly, experiences – is mediated by software (Manovich 19).” The majority of users will only be interacting with the very surface features of Google Glass’ interface. Those who are well-versed in code may use code to manipulate the software, but that seems to be the deepest level of interaction possible. Manovich gives the example of a digital photograph taking on different properties and functions depending on the software that it is displayed with. Google Glass may be just another piece of software in an increasingly software- and app-based world, but its presentation sets it apart from others.

Absence of Augmented Reality

Google Glass sits in front of the eye and is hands-free. This means that it is controlled by the user’s voice. It is meant to be intuitive, so that the technology can be instantly accessible without the need to manually turn anything on or off. “…what best explains the distinctive features of human intelligence,” writes Andy Clark, “is precisely their ability to enter into deep and complex relationships with nonbiological constructs, props, and aids (Clark 5).” As “natural-born cyborgs,” we may already possess the ability to enter into such a relationship with Google Glass. It seems that our natural propensity for combining our mental functions with electronic tools is facilitated by placing the screen directly over the eye. I was going to write about augmented reality technology here and more specifically about Jurgenson’s “Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality,” but one of the specifications that Google recently released states that Google Glass does not currently contain augmented reality technology.’s breakdown stresses that Google Glass is not simply a “replacement” for mobile or desktop computing. However, the absence of augmented reality seems to reduce Google Glass to remediated software on a screen in front of users’ eyes. An augmented reality feature would support Jurgenson’s stance that the digital and physical are enmeshed rather than separated in a dualistic point of view. It could be argued, however, that the placement of the Google Glass over the eye supports Jorgenson’s argument as well. Even if it is not augmenting the user’s reality, the user is still combining the two realities by using Google Glass in reaction to physical events (taking a picture, recording sound, etc.).


Discussion and speculation surrounding Google Glass is only just starting to pick up, but it is interesting to make note of some of the context through which Google Glass is emerging. Google Glass has been in development for some time, and is only just now being exported to those who are on an exclusive list of “Glass Explorers.” Despite the fact that Google Glass is not yet widely distributed, the existence of the sample code and other forward-looking features indicate that Google is preparing for an explosion of demand for this product. Reactions to Google Glass have varied widely. Some believe that it will further alienate us from “the real world”, while others are excited about the possibilities for hands-free computing. Whatever the outcome, Google Glass’ entrance into the market as a media artefact will certainly be notable.


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