Through a Google Glass, Darkly
Surveillance of, by, and for the people
Apr 28, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 31 • By MATT LABASH
Since the Glass announcement, I’d tried repeatedly to get a test ride with The Future on my face in order to write about it, but received no cooperation from Google’s media gatekeepers. So when I spied my first Glasshole there in Austin in March 2013, my reaction was twofold: (1) I really need to punch that guy in the throat. (2) I wonder if he would let me try them on?
I didn’t, even though he wouldn’t. He claimed he was forbidden by his terms of service to let others try the Glass. (Not true, it turns out.) What I did do, however, was bypass the media stiff-armers by applying online to become a Glass Explorer.
To my surprise, an Explorer invitation arrived in my inbox in February. Unlike many of the early adopters and developers who were admitted, I don’t exactly live on the bleeding-edge of tomorrow. Over the years, I’ve cultivated a reputation as a cyber-skeptic, as technology too often nowadays seems to be less about complementing our humanity than obliterating it. While I’m not exactly a Luddite—I carry a phone, albeit a dumb one, and I spend a good half of each day in a screen’s glow, like the rest of God-fearing America—I have with some regularity thumped tech-triumphalists with subtly titled articles like “Down with Facebook!” “The Twidiocracy,” and “Why iHate Steve Jobs” (God rest his soul).
As my puzzled wife said upon hearing the news, “They’re Google. Didn’t they Google you?”
Apparently not. All I had to do to join the community of 10,000 or so invitation-only attention-jockeys and guinea pigs was pay Google $1,500 ($1,633.12 with tax) to help them test their new product, for which they will gain access to additional data while reaping all the financial rewards. (Welcome to Web 2.0 economics.)
Sitting in a cavernous loft over the Chelsea Market in Manhattan, which serves as one of three Explorer “base camps,” I have become that which I loathed: a Glasshole. I am here to pick up my Glass and to receive instruction on how to use it. In the lobby, I run into suspiciously chipper twentysomethings with full-bodied hair and strong jawlines, the kind of faces that greet you in high-end cults, like a Scientology center or an Apple Store.
I meet my Glass Guide, Danielle. She is young and blonde, and bears some resemblance to the actress Alicia Silverstone. I pull out a micro-recorder, asking if she minds if we document the experience. She doesn’t. She is wearing Glass, too, as do all the Glass Guides. With camera lenses embedded in our titanium eyewear, we are all documentarians now, although she asks me not to photograph other Glass base-campers when I pull out a traditional camera. It’d be a shame to violate their privacy while they’re learning how to violate everyone else’s.
Danielle pulls my Glass out of a box that’s as big as an old family Bible. I’d had a choice of five colors, some of them subdued like “shale” or “charcoal.” But upon consulting my color wheel, I’d opted for tangerine, which screams “look at me.” After all, what’s the point of wearing Glass if you don’t want to be noticed wearing Glass?
I slip them on, and it’s about as bad as I expected. Not a good look for me, or possibly anyone. I look like a short-bus version of LeVar Burton’s character Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Except La Forge was blind, and he wore a prosthetic device to restore his sight. Whereas I just look like a pretentious tool with a child’s toy strapped to my head. When I affix the slide-on shades, it might be even worse. They smack of goofy-dictator glasses, making me resemble a cut-rate Kim Jong-un.
Google recently inked a deal with Luxottica—makers of Oakley and Ray-Ban glasses—to design more aesthetically appealing Glasswear down the road. But for now, “I look like a freak,” I tell Danielle. “No, you don’t,” she says unconvincingly. Plenty in the press have made fun of Glass’s dopiness. Valleywag’s Sam Biddle, Glass’s tormenter-in-chief, holds that Glass is “only slightly less stigmatized than a giant swastika or swath of acne.” But never underestimate what society will end up considering acceptable. How else to explain a country where it’s possible to buy men’s jeggings (jean leggings)?
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