The voice-activated, wearable computer is not yet for sale in Myanmar. In fact, it remains a rare sight anywhere aside from tech-flooded U.S. cities like San Francisco and New York.
But American filmmaker Josh Kim brought the device to Myanmar as part of a documentary project in which he loaned Google Glass to people working in professions he found intriguing. The frameless, futuristic-looking glasses are fitted with a 720-pixel camera and allow their wearers to record what they see with the mere wink of an eye or a simple voice command.
Mr. Kim’s subjects, some of who expressed skepticism when he initially approached them, included a vendor who sells sugarcane juice and a pay phone operator. Unlike the U.S., where the glasses have caused an uproar, Mr. Kim said no one in Myanmar was particularly excited by Google’s hottest new tech toy.
“They just assumed it was something they did not have, but was pretty common across the rest of the world,” said Mr. Kim. When people interacted with those wearing the glasses, he added, they “thought this was a new fashion statement.”
Other than seeming a tad perplexed by a vendor with a funny-looking contraption on their face, most customers appeared cool to the gadget, he said.
Myanmar has an Internet penetration only higher than that of North Korea. Just 4.2% of its population of 60 million had access to the Web in 2012, the latest year data are available. Smartphones are just starting to reach the most developed cities of Yangon and Mandalay, which are light years behind neighboring metropolises like Bangkok. Even then, the SIM cards needed to operate the phones sell for around $250, an exorbitant price for the vast majority of people in a country that is the poorest in Southeast Asia.
Mr. Kim said his efforts to document what life is like through the eyes of ordinary Myanmar citizens is part of a broader project called Google Glass Diaries. He’s already posted half a dozen video clips on the webpage and says he hopes the project will eventually include 100 short, one-minute videos from around the globe. Mr. Kim says his goal is to show people slices of life from a viewpoint that is far different from their own.
“I look at it as giving voice to people who don’t have it,” said Mr. Kim. “They want to be able to tell their own stories, and this empowers the individuals to do that.”
Mr. Kim gained use of Google Glass through Glass Explorer, a pilot project initiated by the tech giant that allows select people to experiment with the device before its wider release later this year. The scheme comes with a US$1,500 entry free.
So far Mr. Kim has been to Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan since embarking on his glasses diary in January. He plans to take the device to the U.S. to work on a similar concept there. Rather than go to a country specifically for the project, he says he has been taking the glasses along on his travels. The 32-year-old videographer is also working on his first feature film based on a novel called “Sightseeing,” which is sort of what he’s doing.
In picking jobs to chronicle, Mr. Kim said he “felt a responsibility not to show a country in a stereotypical way” or one that might draw too many contrasts between the developed and developing world. In Thailand, for example, he lent the glasses to a “smile designer” – a more diplomatic term for cosmetic surgeon – to show that demand for beauty enhancing services are universal.