Google Glass & Politicians Through The Looking Glass

Political campaigns, down through the centuries have used the technology of the times to help enhance a candidate's competitive edge. Innovating communication channels has always played a key role in reaching and targeting constituencies during national elections. Presidential candidates who failed to embrace the new technologies of their day often found themselves vulnerable in the eyes of the public.

19th & 20th Centuries

During the 1800s, run-ups to an election used the burgeoning transcontinental railroad system to conduct stump speeches on 'whistle stoCandidate Truman on Whistle StopCandidate Truman on Whistle Stopps' across the country.  With the introduction of the Industrial Revolution, politicians relied heavily on traditional media such as the telegraph and newspapers. During and post-War War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt relied heavily on radio transmissions to reach eligible voters. When television gained acceptance in the late 1950s, early 1960s, pundits would say Richard Nixon lost his election to John F. Kennedy because he lacked the ability to adapt to this latest technology.

21st CenturyObama, Social Media Rock StarObama, Social Media Rock Star

With the introduction of the Internet, the convergence of media in real-time took a giant leap forward. When Web 2.0 technologies launched accompanied by social media, blogs, citizen journalism, user-generated commentary and smart phones, these advancements virtually reshaped presidential campaigns during the fist decade of the 21st Century. It's been said Obama won both of his elections due to his team's adeptness to harness social media.

Reaching out to potential voters in this milieu became analogous to how big brands learned to target consumers of online.

According to Dennis Anderson, PhD at Pace University in his white paper: How has Web 2.0 reshaped the presidential campaign in the United States, "it wasn’t until the most recent campaign cycles [Obama vs McCain and Obama vs. Romney] that presidential campaigns realized the full potential of web technologies, which had come out of their infancy and become more dynamic."

Will 2016 be the Google Glass Year?

Looking forward to 2016, while additional technology might appear between now and then, it's a good bet that wearable technology, particularly Google Glass will play a major role. The built-in computer you wear like eyeglasses features the ability to surf the Web, email, text, take photos, shoot and stream live video and more — all with a hands-free capability.

This is not only a prediction, but also one that's backed up by commercial reports. According to a CNET report, it's thought "nearly 10 million shipments of Glass and similar devices will be in the marketplace over the next four years." With this much product in the marketplace, it's inevitable that not only will the candidates be attracted to the advantages of these devices, but so will the millions of us voters who will be able to follow the primaries and campaigns on our own pair of Google Glass.

Leading up to the next presidential election year, market research firm IMS estimates shipments of Glass will be driven mostly not only by sales to developers, but also to those who can afford the $1500 price tag.

Will they have an App for that?

Of course, like smartphones and tablets, the success of Glass will be predicated on the applications developed for it. If developers fall short of producing compelling software and innovative uses for this device, there is a chance it may stall. However, early indicators look bright for even entrepreneurs in small businesses.

Pros & Cons

Those on both sides of the aisle see the benefits and challenges that lie ahead.

Campaign workers like Peter Ildefonso, a 25-year old Republican and software developer from Severna Park, Peter IldefonsoPeter IldefonsoMD are presently seeking ways to use Glass on the campaign trail. According to NPR's Don Gonyea who has covered campaign rallies and conventions over the years, he sized up Ildefonso as an engaged activist wearing Google Glass specifically to analyze political activities as they unfold.

"I'm trying to figure out ways activists can use it in the field," noted Ildefonso who also works for the nonprofit Leadership Institute, which is responsible for training millennial conservatives in the political space. In a webinar, his team cited the advantage of using Glass versus a smartphone camera because of the ability to capture footage "without being as obvious."

270Strategies' Betsy Hoover agrees. "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."

On the flip side, others see the device as a "tip off" that those who are wearing them might be conducting surveillance. As more folks become familiar with how the device works, one might be hesitant to engage in a dialogue with users who they suspect are photographing them - or worse - videotaping their convos.

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 [using Glass] 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."

Where are you now?

With its GPS [global positioning system] feature, candidates and their campaign staff will be privy to access information based on location.

Digital advocacy group Red Edge partner Bret Jacobson is banking on the opportunity to utilize this advantage based on the company's new 'augmented advocacy' app, still in beta. In its current stage, this software alerts users when they are near a government buildings where augmented notations become visible to the user wearing Glass. The data that pops up as an overlay includes such items as the head of the organization and the taxpayer money spent on their departments by the federal government.

"Our ability to layer information, time and location through Glass opens up an extraordinary number of possibilities," Jacobson says. "Being the first in our space on a new platform is always fun, but the best part is just the process of our team thinking through the marriage of technology and politics."

Early Adopters

Hillary ClintonHillary ClintonWhile one might think progressive and liberals to be the first to utilize this break-through technology, to date there's very little evidence that any of the current 2016 presidential contenders have actually worn a pair. For instance, if one was to conduct a Google search of "Hillary Clinton" and "Google Glass," they'd be directed to articles about her 'old school' eyeglasses, with no indication how she feels about this new advancement.

Newt GingrichNewt GingrichSurprisingly, one of the only politicians I was able to surface with a Web search was just one elder statesman. While Newt Gingrich ran in the 2012 presidential race, one doesn't necessarily associate this conservative with cutting-edge tech. Nonetheless, the former Speaker of the House actually liked the pair he received as gift from Google.

However when asked what he would use them for, he was reported saying he would "take it on tours of zoos and museums to share animals and fossils in Google's #ifihadaglass competition.”

Ready for the Rabbit Hole?

Wearable intelligence is just starting to gain acceptance with the general public. However, Google Glass is still a big question mark. At this juncture, it's not yet known whether it will take off commercially — something that's definitely needed if it's to become popular with politicians. Also like the lag time for adopters to feel comfortable with any new technology, similar to Twitter if you recall -- while it didn't play a major role in 2008, by 2012 both sides of the aisle maintained a significant presence and utilized the microblogging site for their respective campaigns.

So while time will tell - I'm sure if Ms. Clinton ever trades in her existing eyewear for Google Glass, you'll most likely see both the Dems and the GOP clamoring to queue up for a pair!