If you want to share an experience with friends or loved ones – say, for example, a trip to Israel – modern technology gives you many options. You could use your smartphone to record video, or even stream images; you could use a social media app to record your impressions – briefly with Twitter, more in-depth with Facebook. And, of course, you could open up a blog and record your impressions.
Or, you could use all of them – and add one more element to give the folks back home a true sense of what is going on around you, through your eyes. That element, according to Aaron Herman, who led a group of seven families from the US on a revolutionary Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) mission in the last few days, would be Google Glass.
“With Glass you can create an interactive experience, directly through the lens, capturing moments you can’t even capture with a smartphone,” said Herman, a tech expert and Senior Manager of Missions for JFNA. “Thanks to Glass, I can share a trip like this in a way that cannot be matched by any other communication method.”
Glass, of course, is Google’s next generation Internet connection device, allowing users to access web sites, read mail, watch videos, and much more without lifting a finger. Glass brings the Internet directly to the user. Users, for example, can keep both hands free to fix a problem in their car, while using their voice to call up a video that will show them exactly what they need to do to get their vehicle running again.
Google Glass isn’t available in Israel yet, although Glass-toting individuals may have brought their Glass devices with them. But according to Herman, this is the first time any group has brought two pairs of Glass – and the first time it’s been integrated into the nuts and bolts of a trip. For example, said Herman, “I was the first to use Glass at Yad Vashem. Usually you are not allowed to photograph or take video there, but they actually encouraged me to use Glass, because they realize how important of an educational tool it will be.
It comes down, said Herman, to “point of view.” Watching a documentary about the Holocaust is one thing, but it’s another thing to come face-to-face with the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem. “With Glass, you see what the person is seeing, from the same point of view that you would see it if you were there. The reactions and responses are unrehearsed, because you’re not posing for something in front of you.”
Tech-savvy teen Danny Ingber, a 14-year old from the Washington DC area, agrees (other families came from Seattle, New York, and New Jersey). “When you have people pose, you don’t get a real reaction, and in fact a lot of kids use their smartphones to make dumb videos on trips like this. With Glass, you get the real thing.” Danny’s father, Ken, said that it was a great tool for Jewish education. “We uploaded photos and videos, and developed a video blog. After this experience, it will be much easier for Danny to relate his experiences to classmates and friends.”
Herman used glass in a wide variety of settings throughout Israel, sharing the moments on Google Hangouts, the search engine’s online chat and conferencing platform. Glass allows uploading of short video clips to Hangouts, so viewers stateside were able to get a glimpse of what they were doing.
“For example, we picked fruit for the poor with guides from Table to Table,” a group that gathers food from farms, markets, and restaurants for those in need. “We had participants wear glass while they were picking oranges, talking about their thoughts and feelings while they were doing it. Those in the Hangout heard them speak and saw the orange as it was being picked. That is as close to an experience like that anyone can have without being there,” said Herman.
Ditto for praying at the Kotel. “Today, anyone anywhere can ‘tune in’ to what is happening at the Western Wall, thanks to the ‘Kotelcam’ and other video cameras that stream the action live over the Internet,” said Herman. “But the picture is distant, and even if you could have a close-up, it’s still just a picture. But viewers who see you staring at the stones of the Kotel, and hearing the sounds of prayers, are getting a different experience altogether.” Ditto for the many activities the group went on, including digging for antiquities at Beit Guvrin, touring the Cardo and other sites in the Old City, checking out spice farms and a chocolate factory in the north, and much more.
Besides sharing their Israel experience with members of participants’ communities, Herman also wanted to share the Glass experience with Israelis. “We went to Arab villages and absorption centers for Ethiopian immigrants, army bases and old age homes, and had them use Glass, showing them how it was being used on-line,” said Herman. “The response was the same everywhere – sheer delight. This is a tool that can be used not only to educate, but to create real bonds between people.”
Herman was able to get a pair of Glass (“the updated version,” he said) as a member of a Google program for tech professionals and journalists (in his spare time, Herman is a videographer for a major Jewish publication in the U.S.). Glass is supposed to be available to the general public sometime in 2014, Google has said.
Just in time, too, said Herman, because the device holds a great deal of potential to increase identity with Judaism and Israel in Jewish communities. The JFNA, he said, is the largest sponsor of missions in the U.S., represents 154 Jewish Federations and 300 smaller network communities across North America, and is responsible for raising some $900 million annually for Israel-related causes; a tool like Glass can make missions more effective and relevant than ever, Herman said. “Federations are always seeking creative new ways to engage more Jews. We think new cutting-edge technology like Google Glass shows real promise as a tool to help tell the powerful story of Federations’ impact to more and more people.
“We are deploying new technology like Google Glass to allow mission participants to communicate their experiences in real time, in a dramatic and dynamic way. Of course, there’s no real substitute for being there – but Glass is a pretty good alternative, said Herman. “Not everyone can join a mission, but we can tell this amazing story as it happens.”