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Google Glass users get mostly warm reception

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SAN FRANCISCO — At 6 feet 4 inches, JR Curley is used to getting noticed.

Just not like this. Ever since he got a pair of Google Glass in November, he has been turning heads at the grocery store, in restaurants, on the street, even at Disneyland.

People approach him all the time to ask about his head-mounted, Internet-connected computer, which is worn like a pair of glasses. He spends so much time letting them try on Glass that his wife has begun referring to herself as the "Glass bystander."

For all the controversy Glass has generated for its ability to take pictures or film video with a simple gesture or voice command, Curley says the attention Glass gets on the streets of Los Angeles has been positive.

Not once has he been asked to take off Glass in an establishment and no one has expressed discomfort that he might be taking photographs of them or video recording them, he said.

In fact, he's the one who has had to get accustomed to people whipping out their smartphones and taking pictures of him without first asking permission.

"As with any new technology, the more people have it, the more it generates a broad understanding," said Curley, 41, a design studio director of an accounting firm who lives in Manhattan Beach.

Curley and dozens of others who are early testers of the device report little or no backlash from the public. In fact, they say a series of high-profile yet isolated incidents have given Glass an unfair rap.

Glass users have been tossed from movie theaters. The device has been banned in bars, restaurants and casinos. A San Diego woman was pulled over for driving with Glass, and a few states are considering banning drivers from using Glass out of concern that the small screen will distract them on the road.

One of the most notorious incidents took place in a San Francisco bar in February when social media consultant Sarah Slocum said she was attacked for wearing Glass. Despite allegations from bar patrons, Slocum denied surreptitiously recording anyone there. But court records show that in 2012 her neighbors got a restraining order against her for crouching outside their open window and recording them with her smartphone.

All of which has raised the question: Is Glass really about to strip away the last shreds of privacy, as some people suggest?

Glass users chalk up any anxiety to a natural fear of the unknown. They say that fear will subside when the technology is in more hands and the social norms have been sussed out. Besides, they say, there are far less expensive and more effective ways to covertly record someone than wearing a computer on your face.

Andrew Barash, 33, a software developer with OpenTable who lives in Marin County, says he has yet to have a negative encounter while wearing Glass.

People who run into him in store aisles occasionally joke with him: "Am I being recorded?" "I say, 'Yes, there's a security camera right over there,'" Barash said.

Mostly, he said, "people are excited to see it and try it. Once they see it in person and how it works, it generally dissipates any concerns about recording."

Google is betting that Glass — the most hotly anticipated technology since the iPhone and the iPad — will lead a revolution in wearable devices that will change how people interact with technology — and one another. But first it has to win over the public.

Curley is just the kind of poster child Google wants for Glass. He wears it between six and eight hours a day to send text messages to his wife, take photographs and videos of his two daughters and look up directions. He even taught his 3-year-old to take pictures with it.

When his Glass broke and he was without it for a few days, he could not bear to pull the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 out of his pocket.

"I can't imagine my life without it," he said of Glass.

Even with those kinds of testimonials, Google has been rolling out the device slowly and cautiously.

The Internet giant plans to begin selling the device later this year. With controversy mounting over Glass in recent weeks, Google has gone to great lengths to educate the public about the device. It recently put out basic etiquette and safety tips for Explorers, reminding them to be respectful and to ask permission before taking photos or filming, just as they would with a smartphone. It also tried to debunk the "top 10 Google Glass myths."

"Glass is new and very few people have the device, so we wanted to help people better understand how it works," Google said in an emailed statement.

Doug Scolnik, a 32-year-old IT technician from Indianapolis who has had Glass since January, says he has gotten a few "snide" comments about recording video. Last week while attending the NCAA regionals, he said, a couple of guys standing next to him made the comment: "Look at this guy recording everything we do."

"When I get those, I generally try to explain that it is not always recording and I can just as easily record from my phone without anyone knowing," Scolnik said. "If I get the chance, I then try to go into more depth about what Glass can do and how I use it."

Last week he attended a Pacers game as the team debuted its use of Glass. The public address announcer, cheerleaders and other Pacers staff used it during the game and streamed footage on the screen at the arena.

"That was the first time I have been around anyone else that was wearing Glass and it was pretty cool to see," he said. "People seemed much more open to asking me about it, probably due to the Pacers using it and it being more widely recognized that night."

It takes time for society to adjust to any new disruptive technology, said Matt McGee, founder of the news website Glass Almanac and a Glass wearer. He likens recent debates over Glass to early objections to the use of cellphones in the 1980s and 1990s. But he also says it may take years for Glass to be fully embraced, just as smartphones had to prove their utility and come down in price before overtaking cellphones.

"We have to be cognizant that maybe it's not smart to wear Glass in certain situations. Maybe we do need to leave it at home sometimes," McGee said.

Damien Riehl, a 38-year-old lawyer from St. Paul, Minn., has been using Glass since December. With a litigation practice that focuses on technology, Riehl says he likes to try new gadgets. He also has a keen interest in online privacy and says he wanted to know whether he should be concerned by how much personal information Glass soaks up.

Right now Glass doesn't gather any more data than a smartphone does, he said.

But that won't always be the case as Glass adds new apps and functionality, he said. And if in the future Google allows facial recognition, something that at least for now it has banned?

"That's the elephant in the room here," Riehl said.

McGee shrugs off that concern.

"Ten years from now, we will look back at this and think how funny it is that we used to be worried about this stuff," he said.

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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