Google Glass winners: cyborg elites, or just a bunch of Glassholes?

Jesse Brown on what the #ifihadglasscontest could mean for widespread adoption


(Fred Armisen on last weekend's Saturday Night Live)

The lucky winners of Google’s #ifihadglass contest have received their digital spectacles in the mail and are flaunting them around town (the towns in question primarily being San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles). To qualify, they have proven themselves innovative, or at least famous enough to be granted the privilege of paying Google $1,500 for a first generation pair of Google Glass headwear, and now they want you to know it.

This has prompted some concern. Over at The New York Times, Jenna Wortham worries “about the future of new technology and who gains access to it first — part of a much larger debate concerning the undercurrents of power and privilege that course through the Web.”

Between the hefty sticker price and the snobby Google selection process, Wortham speculates that “Glass…poses an inkling of a trend toward technology for the 1 percent”.

These concerns can seem reasonable. If technology is power, and if Google Glass is the game-changing device it might be, then limiting its user base to only those who can afford it, or those deemed worthy seems like a great way to help the rich get richer.

But let’s not get carried away. The first wave of Glass adopters don’t exactly resemble a ruling class of bionic Rockefellers.

Google’s “winner” list ranges from geek heroes like Levar Burton and Neil Patrick Harris to less heroic figures like Newt Gingrich. Beyond celebrities, winners include eager tech industry types whose shameless and conspicuous peacocking of their digital glasses has earned them the instant epithet “Glassholes“.

Glassholes have been spotted in coffee shops around America, desperately trying to be noticed as they take surreptitious creepshot photos, emit verbal commands to their own faces, and watch Youtube while pretending to listen to you, a state of distraction dubbed “Glassed out”.

All of this speaks to Google Glass’ bigger problem: it looks silly. The #ifihadglass contest, supposedly intended to stimulate high levels of technological and cultural engagement, is in fact a giant PR campaign designed to normalize and render cool what remains, from a visual standpoint, a much lamer version of the reviled bluetooth headset.

In short, Google has a dork problem. Glass has become instantly associated with smug white dudes desperate for status-symbol accoutrements. I’m excited by Glass, but I’d feel ridiculous wearing it. By cherry-picking its first generation of users and pushing diversity and hipness in its marketing materials, Google hopes to change this.

It wants Glass to look like this:


(photo: Google)

When really, it looks like this:

The Associated Press

(Incidentally, I’m not saying that Google co-founder Sergey Brin is a dork. I’m just saying that he looks like one when he wears Glass).

If the last ten years have shown us anything, it’s that the consumer electronic product cycle, for all of its materialist evils, is an incredibly efficient way of crossing the digital divide, driving tech prices down, and rapidly empowering billions with powerful tools. It seems like just yesterday that Canadians were clamouring to pay $600 on Craigslist for a first generation iPhone. Today, cheap-o smartphones that put the iPhone 1 to shame can be had for under $100. They are proliferating wildly in under-developed nations. If there’s a better way to put tech in the hands of the poor, I haven’t seen it.

Of course, the entire process begins with the tech-lust of the one per cent. Maybe a year or two from now our eyeballs will be used to wearable computers like Glass. Maybe Google will convince young, attractive women of various ethnicities to don the gadgets outside of a paid photo shoot, eradicating the association of Glass with white male privilege. Maybe competitors will offer increasingly powerful versions and prices will tumble as consumer demand rises.

Maybe the Glassholes will lead us.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown

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Google Glass winners: cyborg elites, or just a bunch of Glassholes?

  1. I want to be into these things, but I just don’t see how they’re in the least bit interesting or practical. I’m obviously not the right demographic for them – I don’t even have a cellphone and I’ve never understood the need some of my peers have to be constantly texting each other – but while I saw the appeal of the iPhone right away, I don’t see this catching on.

    Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I don’t think this is going to be broadly appealing to people. It’s incredibly distracting, to the point of being dangerous, and it doesn’t do anything that your cellphone can’t, except that you put your cellphone away when you’re done with it, whereas the expectation is that these are going to sit on your face all day.

    I think it’s going to be filed next to those gesture based wearable computers – cool prototypes that are really creative, but that don’t work in a way that many people will want to use regularly.

    That said, once they start integrating that sort of functionality right into our eyes and brains, then everyone will want it.

    • I’m not sure I buy the “sit on your face all day” complaint. Millions of people have something sitting on their face all day. They’re called glasses. And plenty of people without vision problems wear non-prescription versions just because they like the aesthetic.

      • Fair enough.

        I’m totally open to the assumption that I’m weird in that I don’t want a computer interface in my field of vision at all times. I like to feel disconnected from the digital world for a significant portion of the day.

        But there is something about these that doesn’t seem to have what it takes for mass appeal… maybe it’s the need for a verbally controlled interface that bothers me, or the idea of drivers having these things on instead of cellphones…

        Of course, I could be totally wrong. They just strike me as a prototype that will just be a stepping stone to more widely adopted technology, if anything.

    • As a person who has a neurological progressive disease, Google glasses would allow me to use a cell phone, take photos. I am excited by the possibilities for those of us with limiting disabilities.

      • I’m all for adaptive technologies that make people’s lives better.

        I don’t have a problem with this technology, really, I just don’t see it as having mass appeal. There is certainly a potential for it in specific cases, such as your own, and I’m sure there’s a market outside of that for people who just like new technology; I just think it’s a small market.

        So my disagreement isn’t with people who think this is interesting or useful for situations like your own, it’s with people who think this is going to be the next big thing, like the iPhone or something. I just don’t think it is, but I could be totally wrong. People like all sorts of things that I wouldn’t have thought they would.

  2. Maybe Google will convince young, attractive women of various ethnicities to don the gadgets outside of a paid photo shoot, eradicating the association of Glass with white male privilege. Maybe competitors will offer increasingly powerful versions and prices will tumble as consumer demand rises.

    Maybe they’ll just make a more advanced iteration that just looks like a regular old pair of stylish glasses.

    Downgrade the bulk SLIGHTLY, put lenses over both eyes in stead of a tiny lens over one eye, and make invisible the line between the part of the lens that’s “active” and the part that’s for show, and it’s super easy for me to see how these could just look like run of the mill glasses. I know people today who wear glasses that are just about as bulky as Google Glass, and even people without vision problems sometimes wear run of the mill non-prescription glasses just because they look good in them.

    • Absolutely. It’s like arguing how big and ugly cell phones are, in 1989. Luddite trash and very very boring.

  3. It’s obvious the writer was jealous he didn’t get picked by Google.

  4. Nice tantrum, Jesse.

  5. Watch for this phrase to start trending: “No google glasses allowed”.

  6. Well, this Google Glass is an attempt to free data from computer and other portable devices and put it right through in front of your eyes. But not really sure if this would certainly get to the attention of people.

  7. Interesting post. As for me though, I don’t see anything wrong with the glass. It looks cool. Plus,the design looks practical enough and futuristic at the same time. I agree that it’s better to let a small group of people to try the device first. I’m also excited for the possibilities for people with disabilities (as mentioned in the previous comments in this thread).

    Ventura County

  8. 1./ -Put glasses on.

    2./ -Connect (one-way) to (Googles) Internet ad-filled sewer pipe,

    3./ -and just like Cable/TV, shutup, look, listen, and then just “buy” the crap we tell you to buy, please.

    Easy as 123, and of course, we can NOT be held responsible for your driving habits,…


  9. I used to hear Luddite bullshit like this about cell phones back in the mid to late 90’s. It was bullshit then and it’s just as ridiculous now. So Brown thinks glass looks dorky or something. Meaningless and tiresome.

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