Google Glass could make the world better – is social care going to be revolutionised?

Jun 14, 2013

This post will look at five ways Google Glass (and the inevitable other brands’ wearable devices) may change our understanding of how to protect vulnerable people, look after youngsters and improve life for older people.

Google Glass, if you don’t know, is a wearable computer with a head-mounted display – it takes voice commands and uses the internet to give you information. In front of your eyes you can see directions, data and all sorts.

Watch Sergey Brin talk about Google Glass at TED 2013 for a summary of what it does.


[Photo by giuseppe.costantino]

I got 99 problems but Glass ain’t one

Before I start – I know that there are issues, like the fact that there is no indication that the camera is recording, and lots of privacy problems and ethical considerations we’ve not discovered and resolved yet.

There are far brighter people than me who can examine the implications and dangers.

Plus, if everybody focused on the negatives only then we’d never use the darned things.

I’m excited by the possibilities – I predict the positive effects of this will drastically reduce the burden on social care budgets if we play our cards right.

Five possibilities

1. No hands and voice control = inclusivity

No fiddly keyboards demanding a user to be able to press control-alt-demand or work a smartphone. Apparently, qwerty keyboards were designed to slow typists down, typewriters can’t cope with speed. People can use voice control to access the internet with Glass regardless of arthritis, Carpal tunnel syndrome, learning disabilities, dylexia and a whole host of other things that make keyboards or writing awkward.

Good access to information and other people is empowering and often people that use social services feel better if they have control and understanding of their situation. The internet can help that to happen – Google Glass can make that easy for everyone.

2. Recording experiences

If the service you receive is not up to standard, filming it on Google Glass gives you documented evidence of that experience. Would, say, sloppy or neglectful healthcare provision happen as often if the employees knew that patients were recording the service they provide? Wouldn’t widespread use of social media to communicate satisfaction or unhappiness with social care provided give us great data about the employees making a real difference to people’s lives? And maybe highlight the ones who are not in the right career? Scrutiny of services by the people who receive care will be easier.

3. Supporting people with learning disabilities

How much would it cost to send a person to learn to cook for him or herself? With travel and training costs – I guess at least £50 an hour. What if that person was at home, with their own cooker and equipment and getting step by step instructions before their eyes from YouTube? What if the instructions remind them to turn off the gas when the food is cooked? Google Glass can do that.

4. Community and removing isolation

“An increased emphasis on community, on prevention, and personalisation will transform social care to improve quality, reduce demand and generate efficiencies.” From the Guardian.

No community means isolation and that leads to bigger problems – if people can’t connect with people and services around them they are more likely to become depressed or not get help when it’s needed. Asking for help is empowering – public services need to make sure people get help as early as possible before a problem escalates.

Access to social media (that is, access to other people) will become so much more commonplace. Reducing the computer hardware removes the fear. It’d be much easier to say ‘how do I set up a Twitter account and get instructions’ than it is to log into a computer or use a smartphone, open a browser and type the information into the right place to find the information.

It’s better to say, ‘talk to David Smith on Skype’ while you’re making a cuppa in the kitchen, than it is to do it on laptop on a desk in an office. Social media need not replace face-to-face company – it can link us to new people and keep us in touch with those we know.

5. Who’s around me to help me, to entertain me to play with?

Geo-location means I can find things near me.

“Find someone near me who, can help me with a job application/is a doctor/runs a cribbage league.”

“Remind me when I’m at the local flower shop next to ask the woman who works there if she’ll give me a lift to the flower show”.

“Sign me up to a local supper club”.

“Search which nearby coffee shop has good faciilties for people with disabilities”

It’s fun but it so much more

When I first heard about Google Glass I thought – ‘cool, I want it!’ I love Scoble’s descriptions of taking nice photos while he carries his shopping and asking for directions when I’m lost. But it’s not just fun – the wonderful Mark Scheafer made that clear when he was asked about Google Glass recently at the Oi conference in Cardiff. This thing is going to change our lives.

There must be so much that the development of wearable computers can do for people. What about people with dementia, kids in care, people with sensory impairments? I expect there are people working in social care with amazing plans that beat these sketchy thoughts – I’m so excited to hear about them.

Off topic: this post is inspired by Mark Schaefer who is an awesome force in social media and how it can be used and also Pippa Davies who made me realise I’m a stable, self-monitoring fox, Chris Bolton who did a fab blogging workshop today and encouraged me to get off my butt and post on here more. Thanks to them for the encouragement.

Cartoon from Private Eye shared by @BenBlack

UPDATE: 21/08/13

Christopher Gregory pointed me to a very insightful article about Google Glass from the perspective of a writer who is profoundly deaf. It’s worth a read and hopefully some of the problems the author found with Glass will be picked up and resolved by Google.



  1. philippa

    You are a doll Helen and I am gagging to try these glasses now… and yes, Chris B is right, we do want more posts from you please…

  2. Paul Taylor

    I love this post. I’ve read pretty much universally negative coverage of Glass that have focussed on the privacy and anti-social aspects. My view is that this is an opportunity to make the internet more accessible than ever before and your post supports this. The Nintendo Wii made gaming accessible to a generation who couldn’t use complicated controllers. Glass provides an opportunity to do the same for the internet.

  3. Helen Reynolds

    Thanks very much lovelies! I’m no expert in Google Glass or social care but it seems to me like there may be some very exciting and positive possibilities. Thanks again for your nice comments.

  4. Lutz Siemer

    Reblogged this on MOBILE SOCIAL WORK and commented:
    As we here at Mobile Social Work are still figuring out the use of smartphones Helen Reynolds from Ace Digital Comms is already one step ahead. Check out her inspiring ideas about the use of Google Glass in social care (… and social work).

  5. Nick Lewis

    Hi Helen,

    Thanks for the great article, although I still remain a pessimist about Google Glass as a whole.

    I think the lot of the ideas you outline in this blog entry are sound ones, but I don’t think they’re necessarily reliant on Google Glass – a lot of the technology already exists to carry out these functions, yet social care systems have not really implemented them.

    We have also got to see what the actual purchase cost of Glass would be, because I suspect that for the next five years or so it will be a premium product in the Apple price bracket. I can’t see financially strapped government bodies being allowed to fork out for Glass to implement the ideas you suggest, despite the obvious longer term savings its introduction would mean.

    I am also wary of technology being used as a surrogate for functions we should be carrying out as a matter of course as a civil society. We should be consciously pro-actively visiting the isolated and getting them involved in tangible offline communities rather than just handing them a pair of Google Glasses and washing our hands of them. Yes, it is great that a technology such as this means that we can keep in touch with our loved ones instantaneously, but I am worried that soon we will have ‘macros’ or Bots that will keep such people ‘entertained’ while we get on with our busy lives. I know that sounds callous, but just think of how society behaves towards its elderly today, and just extrapolate those attitudes with the introduction of new technology.

    Thanks once again for the post. I don’t want to come across as overly negative or an Eeyore, but I have a firm belief that although we must look to adopt new technologies, we must do so with our eyes completely open.

  6. Helen Reynolds

    Nick – thank so much for your comment, it’s so nice to have a bit of debate about these new technologies and we do need to look at it from the perspectives you talk about here.

    The only thing I’d argue about is when you say “Google Glass – a lot of the technology already exists to carry out these functions, yet social care systems have not really implemented them.” This is true but I think Google Glass and other devices produced by other companies that will be similar will really change the game.

    Before I had an iPhone I had separate diary, camera, map, phone, MP3 player, notepad and all manner of things in my handbag.The iPhone does all of these things in one device and I would now describe myself as an amateur photography enthusiast, I make more notes that I actually use and I buy more music than ever – in general I am more likely to use the functions of something that is convenient and always at my disposal.

    My point is that although all the functions of Google Glass already exist, the ease of use and voice activation with this kind of device (which also means less tech savvy people will be more likely to make use of the functions) opens up technology and the ways it enhances our lives to people with disabilities, impairments and many of the more vulnerable people in our society.

    I think innovators in social care will have a world opened to them that wouldn’t have worked before with the expense and fiddliness of kitting people out with cumbersome and heavy devices. In the future we can see devices fitted in contact lenses and even, I heard the other day, particles so small that we can breathe them in.

    What I want to see is the terrible negatives this may bring being examined. I also want the people using these things for bad outcomes crowded out by the good guys and gals working on using these things for the benefit of good people.

    Your point about attitudes to the elderly being transferred to online behaviour is (unfortunately) spot on – tech is tech and it all depends on how we use it. Let’s hope things like use of social media will open our eyes to the complexity, varied personality and value of every older person – humanising and putting a real face to the stereotypes. I feel I have a duty to try, not least because I’m getting on a bit myself!

    Cheers Nick, hope to catch you for a real life chat very soon 🙂



  1. Back to the Future – going deeper into how digital advances could transform local government | Sarah Lay - […] I mentioned Google Glass in my article (and linked to this great post by Hel Reynolds in the comments)…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Hel Reynolds

Hel Reynolds

Author of this post

Hel is social media trainer and boss of Comms Creatives. She has been working in comms since 2005, and has been brushing up her expertise in social media for brands since the good old days of MySpace. She also draws the Comms Cartoons, and is usually attached to a mug of coffee.

Comms Creatives Academy membership

Annual membership gets you unlimited access to all our classes, courses and events.

New classes added every month.

All the training, time-saving resources and inspiration you need for a whole year.

A whole year to become a confident, expert social media communicator.