As you may know, lately Snapchat’s been making a spectacle of itself. Spectacles, rather.
The tech world has been captivated for the past few weeks by the launch of Spectacles, made by the same social media company that owns Snapchat. The Wall Street Journal called them “totally awesome,” and The Verge writer Sean O’Kane described them as “a blast to use.” The New York Times also gave it an enthusiastic review, with writer Farhad Manjoo calling them “spectacular” and “a trippy sensation” he “couldn’t resist.”
All puns aside, the Spectacles have garnered generally positive reviews across the board, with most praising its easy-to-use design, flattering shape, and use of circular video. But what does Snap Inc’s new foray into wearables tell us about the future of the company and, more importantly, its mission?
The future of Snap is a topic that requires far further analysis, but we know this much: Spectacles very much exemplify what we call the “Snapchat Paradox.”
The Snapchat Paradox is this: on the one hand, you (the user) can choose the audience for your videos/snaps, preventing anyone you don’t want to see them from seeing them, and these messages disappear after a day. On the other hand, because phones and sunglasses are generally less obviously intrusive, people can take pictures and videos of anyone or anything without consent; in other words, it’s much easier now for people to infringe on other people’s privacy.
And while the Spectacles contain a light that turns on every time you start recording, it’s small enough to be easily ignored. Also, let’s be honest: when was the last time you looked somebody in the eye?
One of the biggest criticisms leveled at the ill-fated Google Glass was that wearing them “[felt] socially inappropriate much of the time”, due to the presumption that many people had “that you could be recording video at any time… without their knowledge.” Obviously, any wearable with a camera faces the same issue and social stigma. In light of that, Snap Inc’s decision to limit the number of units they sold is a smart marketing play, not only creating hype for the product but also gauging how comfortable people are with the concept.
Ultimately, however, the fact that many articles label the function of the Spectacles as “cool and creepy” suggests that, despite our growing tolerance of being filmed, there are some thorny issues of consent and privacy that have not been adequately addressed. For Snap and any other company interested in wearables, those concerns have to be dealt with in order for them to scale past the point of the Early Adopter.