There once was a time when people started talking to themselves at full volume, animatedly, while walking down the street. These strange solo conversations tended to startle passersby. Eventually, however, this bizarre behavior became familiar and unremarkable. Of course, this is the story of how early adopters embraced wireless earpieces more than 20 years ago. Suddenly it was possible to have cell phone conversations with no cell phone in sight. The small, relatively inconspicuous devices worn hooked over one ear signaled a new age in our relationship with technology.
Now, with the metaverse promising another new age, we’re once again on the verge of changing how we live with technology. Entering the metaverse means wearing AR glasses out in the world. We can expect AR glasses to shape the public behavior of wearers just as wireless earpieces once did and, chances are, to stir up just as much curiosity.
New Social Norms
AR projects content onto a virtual screen before the wearer’s eyes. With VR the screen is your world; with AR, the world is your screen. AR glasses display the same content currently found on your mobile phone (documents, email, videos) but your interaction with that content is entirely different. You look up, not down at a phone, and control the view by moving your hands through the air, not touching the screen. Alternatively, users will be able to use their gaze (eye-tracking) to do some navigating in their AR glasses, which will mitigate the challenge. But, generally speaking, when you will be online in public, it will be more obvious than before.
When people start walking around wearing AR glasses, no doubt they’ll appear peculiar to onlookers, maybe even a bit out of place. But with time, we’ll adjust to the sight. It might take longer for our human curiosity to ebb, though. (Why is he waving his hand like that? What is she looking at, anyway? At whom is he yelling commands?) Perhaps we’ll learn to give people the illusion of privacy by pretending we don’t notice their AR glasses. And, in time, we really won’t notice them anymore.
The Art of AR
On the other side, wearing AR glasses may call for new social skills. Some users will have to overcome self-consciousness about catching up on email while viewing their surroundings through a transparent screen. No one wants to look even a little bit silly. And anyone wondering what you’re up to will look right at your face. That makes it tricky to act like you don’t know they’re looking at you.
We’ll also need to cultivate an ability to view our AR world discreetly, with consideration for the people around us. It’s a simple courtesy to avoid being obnoxious while walking down a busy sidewalk, as some of those early wireless earpiece-wearers once seemed. Not calling attention to yourself is a good way to guard your privacy, too.
Some of us will be better at acquiring these skills than others. Negotiating public life while privately experiencing AR could become a new art form in and of itself.
Technology and Privacy
One flaw unique to some AR glasses makes it impossible to blend into the crowd. Most of the optical technology commonly used today allows light to leak out from behind the lenses, projecting it forward. Onlookers see a burst of light beaming through the lenses, hiding the wearer’s eyes. Worse, they also see confidential content as it’s projected forward—bank statements, emails, passwords. Even if you’re only watching a Disney movie, why should anyone know that?
Advanced reflective waveguide architecture reduces forward light projection to a negligible amount, projecting a straight light path that blocks digital content from showing through AR lenses. Wearers can trust that they won’t look weird in this normal-looking eyewear. Even better, the content they view will never be exposed to the public.
For AR users, privacy is a matter of comfort. We feel comfortable wearing AR glasses when no one can tell we’re using them, and no one can see what we’re viewing. But the overarching society surrounding AR users needs to feel comfortable, too. In the very near future, all of us will have to adjust to the metaverse and its new realities. Happily, the story of technology in the recent past suggests that we can, and we will.
David Goldman is VP of Marketing at Lumus.