More people are beginning to hear about Google Glass, and it has lots of potential for both Jewish practice and outreach. They function much like a SmartPhone except there is nothing to hold. Glass responds to voice commands; the user can also activate the device by swiping the right temple. If you want to take a photo, simply say “Okay Glass, take a picture.” While walking around, it’s easy to request and view directions or get an answer to a quick question.
Still, few have had the chance to actually try the device, which is still only a prototype and not yet available to the public for purchase. There are only about 10,000 of these being tested around the country: 2,000 approved developers and another 8,000 who were selected by Google to buy Glass for $1,500.
Barry Schwartz, CEO of New York-based Rusty Brick, was one of the developers, but he had his idea for a Jewish Google Glass app even before he had the chance to try the technology. Released this summer, his JewGlass app is being heralded as the first Glass application for religious Jews.
JewGlass delivers customized Jewish information such as sunset times for Shabbat, prayer times, directions to nearby synagogues and Hebrew translations. The app also will provide information related to Jewish learning, such as the Torah portion of the week or the day’s Daf Yomi (daily Talmud lesson). It will detect nearby kosher restaurants and then provide directions and a menu.
“It’s not a way of bringing people closer to Judaism, but a way to help people who are already observing do it more efficiently,” Schwartz explained.
But another early adopter of Google Glass is, in fact, using it to bring Jews closer to Judaism. Chabad Rabbi Dov Greenberg first set up his “Google Glass Tefillin Stand” in the center of the Stanford campus this past spring as classes were coming to a close. Stanford students who had been chosen to demo the Glass allowed the rabbi to use it for his outreach endeavors. A Stanford alumni who works at Apple designed the blessings panel.
On the first day, about forty students put on tefillin; many more than on the typical day. The Google Glass, more than the black boxes and leather straps, was the hook. The students would put on the tefillin and only then don the Google Glass to glimpse the accompanying blessing.
Rabbi Greenberg’s idea has caught on in communities outside of Stanford as well. When Chabad rabbi Yisrael Pinson of Detroit heard about Greenberg strategy, he decided to try the idea in downtown Detroit on Aug. 16 in Campus Martius Park with the help of Jake Steinerman, one of those early adopters who got to buy Glass.
Rabbi Pinson, together with another Chabad rabbi, helped Jewish passersby utilize this device of the future to help them put on a device of the past. Through Steinerman’s Glass, participants could see a slideshow, created by Steinerman, about tefillin including the blessings and instructions on how to place them on the arm and forehead. Over fifty individuals took advantage of the opportunity to fulfill a Jewish ritual requirement and to sample the Google Glass that day.
“I believe that every advance in technology can be put to good use in the realm of spirituality,” Rabbi Pinson said. “Actually, not only it can, but it should, for by using it spiritually it fulfills its highest purpose. Many times I see people who walk in to morning services during the week and are not familiar with the exact way of putting on tefillin. Either they may be intimidated or embarrassed. With Google Glass they can follow exact instructions and do it like a pro.”
As more Jewish developers and creative individuals have the chance to try out Glass there will no doubt be more applications for Jewish-related uses. And if you notice that a colleague sitting across from you in the company’s conference room is wearing Google Glass and doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the late afternoon meeting, don’t worry … he might just be praying.
Rabbi Jason Miller is an entrepreneur, educator and writer. He is President of Access Computer Technology in Michigan, an IT solutions, web design and social media marketing company. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiJason.