‘I want to show you what it’s like to be there as best I can, even if that ends with me running full-speed into a cafe and rubbing lemons all over my face after being tear-gassed’
What is Google Glass good for, beyond showing off at technology conferences? Google’s augmented eyewear has plenty of sceptics, but here’s one scenario:
“When there’s a wall of police firing plastic bullets at you, and you’re running through a wall of tear-gas, having your hands free to cover your face, while saying ‘OK Glass, record a video’, makes that recording process a lot… easier,” says Tim Pool.
Pool has been using Glass for his livestreaming coverage of recent protests in Istanbul, Cairo and Brazil for Vice in 2013, but he’s been doing what he calls “mobile first-person” journalism since 2011, and the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York.
His livestreams attracted more than 750,000 unique viewers in a single day at the height of those protests, when police were clearing people out of their Occupy camp and trying to keep professional journalists away.
Now he’s finding audiences for his livestreams and videos through Vice’s online network.
“After two years covering politics, technology, hackers and conflict-y stuff, a lot of companies had been interested, but had said ‘we know what you do, we think it’s awesome, would you like to do something else?’,” says Pool.
“Vice were the first company to say ‘we know exactly what you do, we think it’s awesome, and we want you to do more of it.”
Pool’s first assignment for Vice had been due to be the G8 summit, and the likely protests around it. But then riots started in Istanbul, leading to a change of plan.
And two days before leaving for Turkey, Pool’s Glass arrived, after he’d been accepted for Google’s Glass Explorer early-adopters programme earlier in the year.
“As soon as I saw Google Glass, I realised that it would allow me to do what I always do with this first-person live recording, but my hands would be free,” he says.
“I don’t want to stand filming in front of the water cannon and guys with Molotovs. I want to show you what it’s like to be there as best I can, even if that ends with me running full-speed into a cafe and rubbing lemons all over my face after being tear-gassed.”
Not lost in translation
Before flying to Turkey, Pool tweaked his Glass to run Android apps, and sideloaded several onto the device, including Ustream to livestream video, a remote-control app to access his desktop computer at home, and a translation app that’s already come in handy for this Turkish non-speaker in Istanbul.
“I managed to buy a gas mask in a store through miming – ‘Police! Poom poom!’ [the sound of tear-gas being fired] – but when I paid for it, I just confused the shop-owner when trying to mime ‘receipt’. It was great being able to say ‘OK Glass, Google Translate ‘receipt’ to Turkish’,” says Pool.
“When I was in Brazil, though, I didn’t have a data connection at first, so I couldn’t communicate. It was very weird going from that to Turkey, where I could translate things and talk to somebody.”
Poor connectivity is currently a hazard of Pool’s job, especially when trying to livestream video. He carries several SIMs in order to switch operators when one drops out, but is optimistic about future improvements in network speed and reliability.
The results can be captivating and panic-inducing in equal measure when Pool has been caught up in the protests. “Some people have told me that it’s like journalism video-gaming: an open window into what’s going on,” he says.
“There’s no one standing in front of you: you’re looking through a window at this event. And with social media, people can chat with me while I’m broadcasting, and chat to one another, which is just as powerful.”
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