Only the Lonely: My Nights Out With Google Glass
I didn’t want to wear Google Glass at all, ever. But, after so many reports of late of people hating on the face computer in San Francisco, right in the area it was born, my editor assigned me to do it.
One guy had his Glass ripped off his face and stomped, someone else was reportedly attacked at a local dive bar and the city is rife with stories of rejection of and disdain for so-called “Glassholes.”
It’s increasingly clear that some in San Francisco have had uncomfortable reactions to Google Glass since the mobile devices started rolling out to select “Explorers” last April.
But how could such a harmless-looking device cause so much consternation? Is it because it represents the dystopian future to come, where humans can only engage via products glued to their heads? Or that it might be recording, tagging and cataloging everyone within sight, with or without their permission, to become part of the greater and ever-growing ocean of information for the search Charybdis?
Or is it because they are just ugly, meaning no people will ever procreate again — or, as the meme goes, is it a chastity belt for the face?
I thought I’d make the best of it and spend a night on the town flirting while wearing the famous face computer to see if the story could change at all.
The plan: I would write a piece on all the ways I could chat someone up with a five-megapixel camera and 12 gigabytes of memory attached to my forehead. I’d text a prospect my number while we talked. I’d videotape our first drink together. If things went well, I’d Google their favorite movie scene, and we’d watch it together right there in the bar.
The two stories I mentioned above have become legendary. One woman, Sarah Slocum, claimed to have been attacked by a crowd at Molotov’s bar, although her story has since been called into question. More recently, Kyle Russell, a reporter for Business Insider, had his Glass torn off his face and smashed on the sidewalk into little bits.
But I figured, with the device roving the city for a whole year, surely we were ready to start having at least some fun with it.
Wrong, as you can see from the many texts I sent to my editor as I stepped out for the night:
So, maybe we weren’t ready to discover the joys of flirting via a computer that rests on the ears and has a jutting screen that floats just over the right eye.
Maybe the story was actually about getting kicked out of iconic bars across San Francisco — it seemed like I was on a good path toward that. So, on another recent night, I started out in the Marina neighborhood, at the Balboa Cafe, a historic cougar bar where as a teenager I’d used my mom’s ID to get in (and no one would question it, which tells you everything).
But I had no problem getting into the Balboa as a grown woman. A grown woman wearing Glass. I sat down. A table of 30-something revelers in paper party hats stared at me. The bartender asked what I wanted, and then paused.
“Hey, so what’s wrong with you?” asked Brian Seifert, who has been tending bar at the Balboa for 15 years.
I queried if I should leave of my own accord or be kicked out in a dramatic fashion. Too dramatic, it seems. He cocked his head and told me I could stay, but he had a few things he wanted to say to me first.
“It’s insidious enough to have iPhones everywhere,” Seifert began. “A bar is a place to be as free as you want to be, to do what you want to do. It’s a safe space.”
The other bartender, Adam, walked over. It was almost midnight on a rainy Tuesday night, so there wasn’t much action.
“There’s nothing inherently bad about them, unless we catch you videotaping in the men’s bathroom or something, but they’re weird as shit,” Adam opined about Glass. “That you’d need this on your face, to me, is just inherently idiotic. I’m not a doomsday prepper, but I do think it’s vastly unimportant, all this antisocial tech. It’s dull.”
Across town at the Tempest, a bike-messenger bar, the bartender sighed when I came in wearing Glass. Neither he nor the burly leather-clad men on the wooden stools cared about my presence, and I was completely ignored.
At Bourbon and Branch, a speakeasy in the Tenderloin district, I was standing at the bar taking a break and thinking about ordering something, when a tall Argentine fellow sidled up next to me and said he’d like to buy me a drink — as long as he could try on my Glass.
It was finally happening: Glass flirting!
Rodrigo, who works as an analyst for McKinsey and was at the bar with an American friend from business school, gently removed my face computer and tried it on. Unfortunately, he then spun around and started chatting up another girl, Nicole. He tipped the Glass over his nose so he could peer over them and wink at her. He pretended to take a picture with it. He pretended that it was a laser and everyone was naked, which Nicole thought was hilarious. He helped her try them on. He was rocking it. This was Glass flirting. Just not with me.
Rodrigo’s friend Brian, a mobile and Wi-Fi product manager at Facebook who lives in the neighborhood, leaned over.
“Dude, what are you doing? Glass is fucking revolting,” Brian said, who asked that his last name not be used because his friend is one of the Glass product managers. “It’s like something about it just makes me mad.”
Rodrigo smiled: “You just don’t appreciate it here anymore. You’re jaded.”
Finally — and with a significant amount of back and forth — I reclaimed my Glass from Rodrigo and Nicole and made the pilgrimage to one last place, the site of the first Glass drama: Molotov’s.
While the earliest Explorers reported amused, curious responses from strangers, local San Franciscans seem to have been less enthusiastic. The little device has become a negative symbol, much like the company’s much-maligned shuttle system.
But it goes beyond the shuttles, which drive people crazy here. Glass seems actually dangerous to some in the City by the Bay. When I wore the device in New York or L.A., for example, people stared; some smiled. The dry cleaner was a little worried, but kids on the subway wanted to try it on.
In San Francisco, the response was different: Everyone knows exactly what it is, and they don’t like it. Maybe the more we’re around Glass, the less we like it.
Maybe Glass is something that doesn’t grow on people.
Yes. The Molotov bouncer put his hands out in front of him to stop me as I started to walk in.
“No, not allowed. No computers on the face,” he said, before asking me to please go on the other side of the street. The other side of the street. As in, across the street.
A young man named Eric was smoking outside, and started backing away from me.
“Whoa, too soon, man. Too soon.”
Or maybe, just maybe, too late.
Here’s How to Come Home Alone With Glass
I eventually wrangled a colleague into joining me (and my Glass) for a beer, and I came up with some flirty face-computer tricks for the occasion. For those who don’t live in Glass-phobic San Francisco and might actually stand a chance with this effort, these could be helpful. And Google offers its own “exploring” ideas.
As will be typical of your own Glass-flirting encounters, the person I met was initially surprised that I was recording and Googling them, but I didn’t let that stop me. Who’s to say which first drink will be the first with your soul mate? And Googling someone as you’re talking to them is the best way to make sure you know what school they went to.
Some good entry questions:
Can I Facebook friend you?
Can I Google you?
Want to know the score?
Want to watch a video of my cat?
Can I tape our first drink, since it’s a special moment and ours will be a lasting love?
Want to try on my Glass? (This one might actually work.)