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Mediating Sexual Experience: A Discussion of the Glance App for Google Glass

Mediating Sexual Experience: A Discussion of the Glance App for Google Glass

This is the third installment of a four-part series. View part one and part two.

 

Not long ago there was significant media hype surrounding the yet to be released Google Glass app (there is currently an iPhone version on the market) known as “Glance” – or by it's previous name while under development, “Sex with Glass.” Glance records a video from your point of view and transmits the feed from your device to that of another user. The object is to see what is in front of both you, and the other person with whom you are linked. Details about the videos shot include that they have a limited length of ten seconds, they are “not hosted anywhere,” and are deleted after five hours unless you save them yourself. Think of a cross between Skype and Snapchat. While there is no reason why the app couldn't be used for capturing any moment (such as this initial promotional shot they released and their photos on the Apple App Store), Glance's online marketing makes it clear that the device's main purpose is sexual exploration and enhancement of intimate interactions. According to the developers' website, the app is designed to help users “experience moments more beautifully,” yet, exactly how experiences are effected is what seems most complex and potentially troubling about Glance.

 

 

Most of the other digital devices that we have looked at in the last two posts (one and two) were analogous in design to traditional sex toys. While some had new features enabled by their born-digital status, they acted, for the most part, as physical replacements or extensions of partner's body, specifically genitalia. The Glance app is a deviation from this design pattern. Rather than a substitution for genitalia, the glasses act as an extension for eyes. Glance is about extending sight not touch. Glance privileges the visual experience and its effect on “moments,” affect, and memory. While clips of intimate moments are surely tied to the physical and the body, the type of information which Glance emphasizes is not about the material body but its traces in our minds and our hard drives. Additionally, Glance is a piece of software. Unlike the other devices discussed, Glance is an app which is designed to utilize a pre-existing platform – it is code, not hardware. We can perhaps understand that software is to hardware what sight is to touch – there is the perception of the physical, but the experience overall is intangible and elusive. Comparisons can easily be drawn between Glance and “point of view” pornography, homemade sex tapes, or even simply the strategically placed mirror. Yet, Glance incorporates both the long-term viewing of something like a sex tape and the in-the-moment experience of say, watching your sexual experience in a mirror, as it happens.

 

Videos through Glance have a maximum length of ten seconds. While the video duration is central to how the app will function, no media outlets I came across touched on this decision. This time limit makes Glance significantly different from a sex tape – rather than capturing a “narrative” one is only capturing snippets. Their explanation for the ten second limit is that “you can’t enjoy the moment when you are looking at the screen all the time. That’s something we learned from using Google Glass.” The ideal is to use Glance sparingly – to enhance particular moments but to not let it get in the way. Yet, wearing Glass during sex, and simultaneously experiencing a moment remediated through the lens of your glasses, could be distracting and annoying no matter how long the video clip. This, of course, opens up an entire debate on experience, interaction, and memory, a debate hotly contested in the realm of any mediating digital device. On the other end of the spectrum, I am reminded of the Apple iPhone commercial released this past holiday season where a teenage boy who appears withdrawn into his phone is actually capturing and compiling a touching home video. It will be interesting to see how using Glance will effect our experience of sex, of a partner, and of our own bodies.

 

 

In one of their catchphrases, the developers claim that Glance is: “Both sides, in the same place. Change the way you experience moments. See the whole picture.” Is seeing from multiple view points at the same time seeing the whole picture, or even more of the picture? We presume that the typical video feed you receive from a partner will be of yourself. Will this reflected image make you more self conscious? More confident? It depends on the person, of course, but the tendency to be distracted when watching yourself move is overwhelming. Who hasn't stared at that tiny image of themselves in the corner of the screen while video chatting with someone else (whose head is several times larger)? Glance's intention is to make you “see the whole picture,” but it runs the risk of allowing you to focus less on a partner and more on yourself.

 

Glance's videos are saved (presumably locally) for five hours after they are captured. In a nod to reinstating the ephemeral in digital media (again, think Snapchat), Glance videos disappear if you don't work to save them. The association evoked is that a composed and catalogued image erases a moment or supplants a memory, whereas a spontaneous and temporary image serves to reinforce a moment, in that it retains the same fleeting quality. Is there really such a difference between the two types of capturing, especially when you have an option to save the image? Also, it is worth mentioning how one interacts with the app itself. The glasses are voice controlled and the app's commands for starting and stopping a recording are, respectively, “okay glass, it's time” and “okay glass, pull out.” If Glance is looking for a seamless integration with a “moment,” then I can understand the desire to have hands free control, but talking to an inanimate piece of technology during an intimate moment still seems like an intrusion. Is this presence something we will gradually get used to, like cellphone conversations in public spaces, or will it continue to feel alien?

 

In the end, Glance is still in development, and conclusions are hard to draw, especially without knowing the details of the interface and user experience design. However, Glance's claim, to let users “experience moments more beautifully,” is remains particularly interesting. Glance places emphasis on the experiential and ephemeral nature of their app – through the logic of sight and software, the duration of the videos, and the storage system. Yet, trouble arises when we compound these intentions with the physical body and hardware interface. Will Glance live up to its claim of experience-enhancement and combine the digital and human productively, or will it be a distracting, clumsy, masquerade, estranging us further?

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3 comments

Sylvia, you bring up so many good points in this post. 

I was not aware of the time length limits of Glance videos or the fact that they delete after five hours. This temporal treatment of sexual experiences is intriguing to me in relation to the conversation we had in class about the affective remnants and impact of Snapchats. There are pervasive cultural taboos surrounding the length of sexual experiences (in heterosexual sex short sex duration is a sign of inexperience and un-manliness, sex between women is often characterized as endless and excessive). I wonder how the possibility of creating a highlight reel of sorts and viewing it retrospectively would change our relationships to the length of sexual experiences. I am thinking of times that people look back and blur out parts of sex that have been bad and focus on the high points (climaxes) or how sex could be shaped around creating those highlight moments.

 

Watching the ten second snippets in the moments of having sex would not only be distracting but I think would refocus the target of desire. I have often felt embarrassed by how often I look at the image of myself in the corner of a Skype screen and would not like to think about the ramifications of getting pleasure off of watching myself be pleasured while still in the act of pleasure. This seems to go beyond theories around selfies and the indulgent, narcissistic tendencies that they indulge. The pleasure we derive from selfies is often mediated through others’ perception of us and how many likes or reblogs we get or just thinking about people viewing our pictures: there is always an audience. The Glance tool is intimately tied to a direct self-pleasure that does not involve anyone else, not even the person you are having sex with and seems to be sinking into a hole of (literal?) self-visual masturbation. 

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Sylvia, Very interesting post!  

I agree that Glance, a narcissistic application, (an expensive mirror really) furthers the elimination of a partner.  It reduces our partner to a video camera.  The normative sexual act will become singular act similar to the act of sex in the film Demolition Man http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k80UQWWUIYs .  For instance, partners now must position themselves not in reference to each other but in relation to the camera in order to view themselves.

The ten second limit seems to be just short enough to memorize.  This has a strange way of forcing the body into the role of a hard drive in order to download these new experiences.  I realize this is an extreme observation but could we call this a type of free labor?

I would agree that the google glass is not the correct medium to use glance.  I understand that the google glass is to be used sparingly during its use but as you suggested it seems like it would be distracting.  I would find it disorienting to be watching my movements completely reversed on the screen similar to the flipped controls of a video game.  At what point would the distraction be so overwhelming that you would focus only on the google glass screen and completely take out the need for a partner?

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Hey Sylvia, this is an interesting post – it’s cool that you found this app while it was still in development. This quote really stuck out to me: “It runs the risk of allowing you to focus less on a partner and more on yourself.” I totally agree that the app allows you to change your focus, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that the app might allow partners to better understand their counterpart’s desires and sexual experiences. Nik’s comparison to the mirror is a valid one, but it doesn’t quite cover what I see as the real value of this app – seeing oneself in an unposed moment, particularly in the throes of passion or whatever. Certainly the voice-activation and the clunky apparatus itself interfere with one’s ability to see oneself au naturel, but there are so many angles of ourselves that we never see, so many faces we never make, and this app could allow partners to share that discovery together.

 

“Honey, I’ve never noticed it, but the backs of my knees are really fleshy…”

“I love them so!”

 

So while I don’t buy the claim that this app can make moments ‘more beautiful’, necessarily, I do expect that it could cause some (potentially ugly) moments to occur that wouldn’t have ever happened otherwise, and I think that’s cool. 

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