Google Glass: Coming Soon To A Campaign Trail Near You

Mar 17, 2014
Originally published on March 17, 2014 11:59 am

Google Glass is looking to be the next must-have digital device. The small computer you wear like eyeglasses allows you to surf the Web, email, text, take photos, shoot and stream live video and more — hands-free.

For now Google Glass is in very limited release, but even so, political professionals are eagerly exploring how it could become a powerful campaign tool.

I have been covering big, crowded political events of all kinds for a long time: conventions, campaign rallies, caucuses, committee meetings. But at this month's Conservative Political Action Conference I encountered something I'd not seen before: an activist working the bustling hallways wearing Google Glass.

"I'm trying to figure out ways activists can use it in the field," says Peter Ildefonso, a 25-year-old Republican and software developer from Severna Park, Md.

Ildefonso works for the nonprofit Leadership Institute, which trains young conservatives. In a webinar, two members of their team discuss Google Glass and its uses as a tool to capture video of the opposition at public events and rallies. They cite its advantages over a cellphone camera and its ability to capture more footage while moving around more freely, "without being as obvious."

Meanwhile, digital strategists for President Obama's campaigns are also studying how to take advantage of Google Glass.

Betsy Hoover is with a group called 270Strategies. "I do think that wearable technology, Google Glass being the front-runner of that right now, is fascinating," she says.

Glass could make it easier to communicate more seamlessly with campaign workers. Someone at headquarters, for example, could send a message to the screen of a volunteer standing on a porch knocking on a door, or watch a live video stream of volunteers talking to voters — depending on privacy laws, of course.

Then there's social media. The 2012 Obama campaign used Twitter and Facebook to connect supporters with one another. Hoover says those sites became even more important because people could access them on their smartphones. Hoover says Google Glass takes things to the next level.

"They don't have to pull their phone out of their pocket; they don't have to unlock it and go to the app they want," she says. "Rather, that experience is layered right on top of what they're doing when they're walking around, when they're reading street signs, when they're waiting for the bus."

And, she says, Google Glass wearers may even be able to receive information about a rally nearby, or volunteer opportunities, all based on their location at any moment.

"People are instantly available, and that's really exciting in terms of what campaigns and elected officials can do," she says.

Daniel Kreiss, a professor at the University of North Carolina, studies the impact of evolving technology on political campaigns.

"Ways in which folks who are involved in politics can share their firsthand experiences of being involved in politics with their wider social networks, I think, would be very valuable for campaigns," he says. "And potentially it would also encourage people who might be disengaged and less interested in politics to get more involved."

Kreiss cautions, though, that because Google Glass isn't available to the general public yet, it's not yet known whether it will take off commercially — something that would be necessary for it to be a hit in the political world.

He suggests that it will help campaigns get even better at the basics, "which is making voter contacts and monitoring the opposition, whether it's on the campaign trail or whether it's making contact with a voter at the doorstep or at a party convention."

Don't look for Google Glass to play a big role in this year's elections. Recall that in 2008, Twitter was around but not a big deal. By 2012, both major presidential campaigns had Twitter war rooms. Google Glass might one day have a story like that of its own.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Google Glass may well become the next must-have digital device. The small computer - which you wear like eyeglasses - lets you to surf the Web, email, text, take photos, shoot and stream live video and a whole lot more, all hands-free.

For now, Google Glass is in very limited release. But one group eager to get their hands on it: people who work in politics.

Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: I've been covering big, crowded, political events of all kinds for a long time - conventions, campaign rallies, caucuses, committee meetings. But at this month's Conservative Political Action Conference, I encountered something I'd not seen before, an activist working the bustling hallways wearing Google Glass.

PETER ILDEFONSO: My names Peter Ildefonso. I'm from Severna Park, Maryland originally, outside Annapolis. I got involved with Republican politics there.

GONYEA: How old are you?

ILDEFONSO: I'm 25.

GONYEA: OK.

ILDEFONSO: About to turn 26, though. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: You're wearing your Google Glass?

ILDEFONSO: I am. I'm wearing Google Glass. I'm a software developer by trade, so I'm trying to figure out ways activists can use it in the field.

GONYEA: Ildefonso works for a non-profit called the Leadership Institute that trains young conservatives. He refers me to an online webinar that features two members of their team discussing Google Glass. Here they talk of its uses as a tool to capture video of the opposition at public events and rallies. They cite its advantages over a cell phone camera.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: To capture more footage and to move around more freely without being as obvious, because having this on my face I can do so many different things.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah.

ILDEFONSO: But when you have cell phone sticking out...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah.

GONYEA: The webinar goes on for better than a half-hour. Meanwhile, digital strategists on the Democratic side are also studying how to take advantage Google Glass. Betsy Hoover, a veteran of President Obama's presidential campaigns is with a group called 270Strategies.

BETSY HOOVER: I do think that wearable technology, Google Glass being kind of the frontrunner of that right now, is fascinating.

GONYEA: It could make it easier to communicate more seamlessly with campaign workers. Someone at headquarters, for example, could send a message to the screen of a volunteer standing on a porch somewhere knocking on a door, or watch a live video stream of volunteers talking to voters, depending on privacy laws, of course. Then there's social media. The 2012 Obama campaign used Twitter and Facebook to connect supporters with one another. Hoover says those sites became even more important because people could access them on their smartphones. Now comes Google Glass.

HOOVER: This really takes us to the next level. They don't even have to pull their phone out of their pocket. They don't have to, you know, unlock it and go to the app that they want. Rather that experience is layered right on top of what they're doing when they're walking around, when they're reading street signs, when they're waiting for the bus.

GONYEA: And, she says, a Google Glass wearer may even be able to receive information about a rally nearby or volunteer opportunities, all based on their location at any moment.

HOOVER: You know, people are instantly available. And that's really exciting in terms of what campaigns and elected officials can do, I think.

GONYEA: Daniel Kreiss, a professor at the University of North Carolina, studies the impact of evolving technology on political campaigns.

DANIEL KREISS: Ways in which folks who are involved in politics can share their first-hand experiences of being involved in politics with their wider social networks I think would be very valuable for campaigns. And potentially it would encourage folks who might be disengaged and less interested in politics to get more involved.

GONYEA: Kreiss cautions, though, that since Google Glass isn't available to the general public yet, it's not yet known if it will take off commercially, something that would be necessary for it to be a hit in the political world. He suggests that it's most likely that it will help campaigns get even better at the basics.

KREISS: Which is making voter contacts and monitoring the opposition, whether it's on the campaign trail or whether it's making a contact with a voter at the doorstep or at a party convention.

GONYEA: Don't look for Google Glass to play a big role in this year's elections. Recall that in 2008 Twitter was around, but not a big deal. By 2012 both major presidential campaigns had Twitter war rooms. Google Glass might one day have a story like that of its own. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

GREENE: MORNING EDITION from NPR News is here each weekday. We thank you for being here with us. And you can follow us on social media at the MORNING EDITION Facebook page and on Twitter: @NPRGreene and @MorningEdition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.