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Google Glass

Has Google created the next iPhone?

The digital world is buzzing with Google’s official unveiling of Google Glass, a new product that incorporates a virtual heads-up display in the corner of a set of head wear resembling glasses. The technology has the ability to take photos, videos, send messages, get directions, etc. over the Internet, simply through voice commands.  While the new product isn’t available to the public yet, there is currently a contest run by Google in which consumers can tweet what they would do if they had Glass in hopes of being one of the few hundred selected to win the opportunity to purchase the glasses (at the low, low price of $1500).  Thousands are competing for the opportunity in hopes of being one of the first to use the glasses in the world, garnering not only media attention but the envy of their friends and peers.  Many view it as the next big leap in consumer technology, similar to the launch of Apple’s iPhone and believe that it will be the “in-demand” item in the coming years.

Because political campaigns must look at emerging technologies and predict which will become new mediums to communicate their messages–much as past campaigns bet on the Internet, smartphones, and social networking sites–it may be a worthwhile investment to start investing in Google Glass.  Having information literally closer than your finger tips could provide ample opportunities for politicians to craft new and innovative ways to reach out to the average voter and perhaps set new precedents in efficacy.  Depending on implementation, the media could also end up getting cut out of the process in several ways.

In Kevin Barnhurt’s piece on long-journalism and NPR, he eventually arrives at the conclusion that journalists have had a larger role in political process since they started taking a more interpretative role in political communication in the 1980s and 1990s. Prior to this, much of political journalism was transcripts of speeches or direct messages from the politicians themselves; the rise of NPR and other mediums like it created a role for journalists in which they became “story-tellers” and interpreters, as evidenced by the continual increase in the length of their pieces.  The ability for politicians to connect with their audiences and potential voters diminished and the power of journalists sky-rocketed. This disconnect has only grown over the past decade, helping to create divisive partisanship: more citizens grow skeptical of the process and the days of candidate-based voting are slowly ending as party politics become more central.

Adding to this partisanship has been the 24-hour news cycle and extreme district gerrymandering, according to David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.   Because of this, both sides of the aisle have had to adapt to find ways for the candidate to connect with the voting bloc.  In the last election, much of this came from new social media campaigns that had been tested in 2008 and refined in 2012.  Political candidates sought to reach out to new voters in order to bypass the interpretive process done by journalists. In order to make the same connections during the next election cycle (mainly 2016), candidates and their campaign staff will have to predict the next big technology. And because of this, many are turning towards Google Glass.

So how could candidates use Google Glass to reach out to potential voters while simultaneously cutting out journalistic interpretation and increased partisanship?

For starters, candidates or their staffers could potentially share or live stream videos directly to the glasses in real time.  This could put potential voters and supporters (visually) feet away while a candidate gives a keynote address.  Again, one of the key issues, according to Barnhurst, is getting the message to the voters across directly as possible. What better way then speaking directly to the audience? Livestreaming or sharing speeches from someone else’s eyes could be innovative as well as exciting to the general public and allow for politicians to speak directly to constituents on a much more personal (albeit, artificial) level.

One of the other key areas of interest in the speculation regarding Google Glass is how advertising will work.  Will pop-up advertisements float up in the corner of your eye? Will Google rely on SEO to sell advertisements?

There are a number of potential options when it comes to advertisements.  Because the technology is so new, the public (and for that matter, most political campaigns) has no idea how Google Glass will actually function. If it’s based on a very limited OS designed by Google, Google will have ultimate control over how ads are run. If this is the case, it’ll likely develop into SEO type advertising in which different campaigns would pay to have different links come up first.  If it’s an app-based technology, similar to the iPhone, advertising will run wild.  Downloadable games will have 15 second advertisements promoting the 2016 presidential candidates before you can proceed. A web browser that operates on eye movement will have small ads pop up every number of page clicks or so based on browsing history (similar to how campaign’s base advertising on internal numbers). Interactive infographs will be visually available for public consumption and could be manipulated or changed based on voice commands.  Based on your location, tracked by Google’s GPS, informational overlays could appear, linking location and issues together–for example, if Glass determines you’re at a local park, an environmental ad could appear with comparisons between the two candidates.

Much of the potential for Google Glass takes the most effective ads and mediums from the 2012 cycle and allows for visual and vocal input into the digital representation.  If political campaigns can capitalize on this technology, they will have an inherent advantage because, when new technologies are introduced, people crave new ways to use them.

While we look at how political campaigns could potentially use Glass to cut out journalists and form their own narrative, we must also be aware that this technology can also be used against them.  With Google Glass, it becomes ridiculously easy (compared to 2012/2013) to record soundbytes, send photos, or stream events.  The potential for disaster becomes much larger for a political candidate whose gaffe is caught by an opponent (or tracker in many cases).  Imagine if the Mother Jones soundbyte of Mitt Romney’s “47%” comment was caught on Glass and could be shared online the instant it happened? Streaming of campaign events could also lead to the same negative consequences.  While such technology will certainly be adapted to in the future with regards to making sure mistakes don’t happen, the early cycles implementing it will no doubt suffer from their inexperience using it as much as they benefit.

In order to break through to their audiences, politicians and their campaign staff will always look for new and inventive ways to by-pass the media. Much of this comes from investing in new technologies or digital movements before they become recognized as a legitimate medium.  In the case of the 2016 presidential election and the emerging technology that is Google Glass, look for many campaigns to craft new and innovative ways to market their candidate as well as writing their own narrative with Glass as a supporting infrastructure.

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