I haven’t had the opportunity to try Google Glass, (though they’re on sale this coming Tuesday for one day only for $1,500, in case you want to pool your resources and nab a pair), but I have seen people walking around MIT with them on, and I have to say they look kind of silly. I already figure that everyone in Technology Square is plugged in to one device or other, and as much as I love Cambridge’s geek culture, there’s something very self-involved about it. A new set of even sillier looking wearable technology seeks to change all that. AgencyGlass are wearable eyes designed to make users seem like they’re friendly and in a good mood, even if they’re seething inside. They’re a little more advanced than Homer’s strategy of cutting ping pong balls in half and sticking them in his eyes.
Tsukuba University’s Dr. Hirotaka Osawa created the device to assist people with something called emotional labor. While that sounds like a totally made up term, it apparently is not. Emotional labor is what a worker does when they have to interact on an emotional level with others. Doctors, nurses, waitresses, therapists, and teachers to name a few, all perform emotional labor on a daily basis. And sometimes it’s really hard. Maybe you’re having a bad day or got no sleep; you can’t just take your terrible mood out on a patient, customer, or on an unsuspecting student. When someone is in a bad mood, it also affects those around them. I used to pick up on this from my teachers back in the day, and now I’m acutely aware of how my own mood sets the tone in class. So, if we can’t just turn our frowns upside down, what are we do to?
Put on AgencyGlass, of course! Like the ping-pong balls, they display your eyes to others, but unlike the ping-pong balls, they do so a bit more realistically. In fact, the device track people’s movements and demonstrate interest, even if the wearer is bored stiff and not paying attention whatsoever. If you lean back, the glasses make it look like you’re in deep thought. Head movements cause blinking. “This emotional support reduces a user’s cognitive load for social manners,” according to Osawa. Basically, he’s giving us permission to phone it in.
It’s ironic, many people think our dependence on technology is decreasing our social skills. Osawa isn’t debating the point at all, he’s just trying to come up with a solution. But is something akin to social deception really a solution? Critics have raised this point, but Osawa argues that because it’s obvious when someone is wearing the glasses, there’s nothing deceptive about it. He cites a sociologist who concluded that emotional labor can actually negatively impact mental health, and that often times, that’s because you’re faking it anyway. That may be true, but I’d rather fake it than show up to lecture tomorrow wearing a pair of these. But ask me again in a decade, I very well may have changed my mind.