Glassholes are People Too
Important etiquette lessons in the age of the Google cyborg
By: Loren March, staff writer
When we were kids, it was pretty much the cardinal rule not to punch the kid who wore glasses. It was just wrong. It was crossing a line.
At the end of February, social media consultant Sarah Slocum was allegedly attacked in a bar in San Francisco for wearing glasses, her Google Glass, and allegedly filming bar patrons without their consent. In a more recent attack on April 11, San Francisco journalist Kyle Russell had his pair viciously stolen right off his face by a woman who yelled, “Glass!” and then fled, smashing the device on the ground as Russell pursued.
There is just something about Glass that makes people uncomfortable. Uncomfortable enough to spur a barrage of online rants about punching Glass wearers, hate/joke blogging, satirical skits, and the creation of anti-Glass groups like Stop The Cyborgs.
A Google Image search for Glass users brings up photos of happy or ultra-cool, seemingly all-knowing, cybernetic elite wearing their $1500 glasses. Maybe that’s partly why there’s been a recent string of Glass-related assaults. Do their privileged little faces make you want to punch them? I didn’t even have to click on the image of one so-called “Glasshole” donning his pair in the shower to begin understanding why the rest of us, who are still wandering around with a smartphone in one hand, might want to use the free one to punch a Glass wearer in the face.
It is abnormal to want to punch a stranger in the face and at the same time not understand what’s offensive about this new wearable technology. A Google spokesperson stated on Monday after the most recent attack, “Targeting anyone for a crime because of what they wear is wrong.” Besides, the people themselves seem nice enough, maybe even overly friendly. Every Glass Explorer (yes, the lucky owners are called “Explorers”) I talked to was incredibly warm and open and very eager to talk about their new toy. So I figured it couldn’t be the people behind the glasses that the public hates on so hard. It had to be the glasses themselves.
But what is it exactly about Glass that is distasteful enough to incite property damage, theft, and assault? These days, it seems pretty hard to find any technology that isn’t being embraced, especially if it’s usable as a social deterrent.
It seems harder still to imagine anybody wanting to knock you out for wearing a pair when you check out their PCMag’s review. They compare wearing the glasses in public to “having a cute dog.” People are bound to walk up, touch, ask questions, and talk about them. This is because Glass doesn’t exactly look like your everyday spectacles. They’re more like something out of Terminator or Star Trek, with a distinct futuristic flavour in their streamlined design.
However, if you wear prescription glasses, you have to wear Glass overtop of them, which is nearly impossible to do. And since a standard pair goes for $1500 plus tax, they’re a little out of range for your average Joe. An extra $225 could get you a more “normal” looking version of the current Glass, but they still look completely different from regular glasses.
You never see people walking up to people with cute dogs in the park and punching them out for it – not even those who keep their dogs in purses or dress them up in tiny degrading outfits. Or at least I hope not. Is this the “augmented reality” that Google promised? A bizarre world where random civilians, driven mad by perpetual surveillance and the wares of Silicon Valley, have witnessed one too many selfies, read one too many soul-sucking status updates, and tweeted out hard enough to take to the streets, unleashing their frustrations on some poor nerdy unsuspecting victim who could do all three of these tasks with no hands?
In what seems to have been some excellent foresight, Google’s Glass Explorers website lays out some pretty clear guidelines about the dos and don’ts of wearing their product. They warn users about the dangers of “glassing out” or “staring off into the prism” for too long, about sticking out in public, about using Glass in inappropriate spaces, and about being a “Glasshole” (yes, Google themselves have adopted the word). “Respect others and if they have questions about Glass don’t get snappy, be polite and explain what Glass does,” the website suggests. “Breaking the rules or being rude will not get businesses excited about Glass and will ruin it for other Explorers.”
“Of course Explorers stand out,” says H. David Shaw, a Glass Explorer who lives in Karachi, Pakistan, and has had his Glass since last November. “They all have something new and it is literally on their face.”
Not only is it something new, it also comes with a very limited edition feel of exclusivity. These puppies went on the market on April 15th for one day only. There were no reports of website crashes, Internet glut, or stock running out except for the evidently more popular white-framed model.
Part of this Glass-knocking, paranoia, and nerd-bashing relates to a lack of understanding about what Glass even is. There are many misconceptions about what Explorers are using them for. One of the most common concerns about Glass is that the wearer might be recording everything you do in their presence without consent. According to the PCMag review, this is mostly a baseless fear: if a wearer is recording you, it’s obvious because they will be looking above your face at their screen, and there will be a slight eerie glow emanating from behind the lenses.
One Explorer, Oliver Madsen of Fairbanks, Alaska, suggested that adding a red recording light onto the front of the camera so others could know when it is on could alleviate concerns about privacy. Madsen doesn’t mind that Glass is still in developmental stages, saying “The main appeal for me was the chance to get something before it was ready for the world, to have a little bit of the future.”
“One app I really like and am excited to see the future of is called Worldlense,” Madsen continues. “It analyzes an image of text in one language through the camera, then replaces the text with the same words, translated into a different language. It is far from perfect now, but I think it’s gonna get better.”
Shaw is similarly excited to see how Glass will evolve. “I’m not a techie or a technophile, I just love tech toys,” he says. “To be on the cutting edge of a new technology is great. Glass is handy. It allows me to do a lot of things while keeping my eyes front rather than being stuck in my device. But we are all still just beta testers, some of us longer than others. There are a lot of improvements needed, but it is still a really cool device.”
Some pretty standard functions use voice controls to do things like search on Google, take pictures or video, navigate maps, send emails and text messages, and make phone calls. IFTTT, Google Now, news, and Twitter were listed by users as some of their favourite apps. There aren’t many apps available through Google yet but they plan to make more.
If Explorers can’t wait to dive into their new augmented reality, there are some pretty cool apps and mods coming out of the Glass-hacking and developer community. Toronto hosted the second-ever Glass Hackathon on April 25-27 of this year, organized by independent game developer and Google Glass Pioneer Macy Kuang. The goal of the event is to make the development process faster and more efficient by bringing together developers, designers, and Explorers to dream up and bring to life wild new Glass apps.
Some of the more exciting (and maybe terrifying, depending on how you look at it) potentials for Glass are being explored by innovators outside of Google. In the hacking community, developers are working on apps that can show you entire building floor plans, do facial recognition, or measure the size of your date’s pupils to see how attracted to you they are.
A scary possibility was recently pointed out by two such developers, graduate researchers Mike Lady and Kim Paterson of California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo. These students built the prototype for the stealth sousveillance spyware that all the seemingly paranoid haters of Google Glass have been freaking out about: a program that takes a photo every ten seconds when Glass’s display is off, uploading the images to a remote server without the wearer’s knowledge, basically hacking their point of view. The only thing standing in the way of this technology being used is mere policy. There are no real security provisions against it.
In the meantime, maybe you’re not ready to have your pupils measured by a cyborg the next time you’re on a blind date, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to deliver a roundhouse to someone’s face. To bring back another one of those important life lessons they teach you in grade school: don’t hate the player, hate the game.
BIO: Loren March is a freelance writer based out of Toronto. She is a Communications graduate hailing from sunny Winnipeg, Manitoba, and currently completing her degree in Urban Studies at York University. Follow her blog at http://lorenmarch.wordpress.com/