Glass Menagerie: Friendship

Google Glass, alienation and redemption in Brooklyn

Virginia Heffernan is the national correspondent for Yahoo! News, covering culture and politics from a digital perspective. She wrote extensively on Internet culture during her eight years as a staff writer for The New York Times, and she has also worked at Harper’s, the New Yorker and Slate. Her book, “Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet,” is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

by Virginia Heffernan | @YahooTech

III. In which I become a Glasshole, alienate a borough and make a friend

Brooklyn, June, 2013. New plan. I’m not “easing into” jack, as was suggested to me by Google. My skull is now perpetually lashed to Google Glass, and I’m like a kitchen renovated with a lapis-lazuli backsplash. I’m upgraded. Massive resale bump.

I’ve bought in wholesale. If we’re chatting, I’m filming you, and then I’m sharing that video with everyone with an optical nerve. Sharing and sharing and sharing—with my boss Chris, my editor Jason, my mom and my boyfriend and my kids and my “real friends” on Google+, whoever they are.

As I glide along the shimmering now-unreal sidewalks of Brooklyn, I move like a middle-aged Neo or a new X-Men mutant in mom sneakers and bleachy gray hair. My wetware brain—and my hair, my cheeks, my teeth—has all gone digital. I am become digital, the sharer of worlds. Glassographer of the universe.

I am become nobody, I am become a Transparent Eyeball, I am become negative capability, I am become Google Glass.

Let me tell you how I got my mojo back—or maybe just got my first trace of mojo ever, or whatever gall it takes to make a person use the word mojo. My retro neighborhood in Brooklyn, which styles itself as America’s first suburb, finds no love lost between it and Google Glass. Like Gucci loafers, Google Glass is a badge of chumpery in this hipster borough, where Facebook is thought coarse and the Internet is another genetically-modified organism to be banished from locavore restaurants.

So what I feel is alienated—and, worse, like I’ve become a Big Tech stooge, right here in maker-obsessed Brooklyn, where people prefer ukuleles to apps, cycling to tweeting, and fermenting to coding. And, OK, so those preferences sound kind of healthy, but the beards-and-small-hats steampunk-itude that pervades this borough has turned me non grata on my own block.

Not a single local friend or even passerby had evinced the slightest interest in the new gadget. In fact, they’ve been treating me like a reality-show also-ran: worth being anti-gawked at, turned away from, shunned. Everyone over ten, in fact, seems faintly disgusted by Google Glass, and seemingly by me, too, ever since Glass and I started running around together.

Until today, that is. A turning point, or pivot, or crossroads: I’m walking along, buying coffee at a new joint in vain hopes of finding comrades at last. I was in a nadir. People were avoiding me because of the loser-poser Google headgear and the madwoman muttering. When all of a sudden, all of a sudden—

“Is that Google Glass?” said a man who turned out to be making a movie on Smith Street. He then, for all the world, said something like “Far out!” or “Outtasight!” which clicked me instantly and euphorically into the hippie-moon-landing headspace I’d been seeking ever since I got the thing. He tried it. He liked it. He made a video. I couldn’t stop smiling. It was like watching someone take Ecstasy, as the hologram materialized before his eye, and he oohed and ahhed. A cute girl in good makeup, florals and hipster glasses walked up.

“Is that Glass?” she said. “Oh my god! Can I try?”

We were off and running. I kid you not: Before I got my Google Glass back for good, on the slow-heating morning sidewalk on tree-lined Brooklyn, that white titanium totem had been passed around to these two, and then two more. One said he’d been “dying to try it.”

Heaven! As we voiced our stratospheric hopes for Google Glass, and how it was just like the iPhone in the early days, and how everyone would come around, we expressed not a micron of small-minded “fear” of surveillance or the apocalypse or whatever. Our little chattery, exhilarated clique seemed a world apart from the dour ukulele-playing pickle-making haters strolling by. We all agreed Glass was awesome. Someone may have said “awesomesauce.” And then we had to disperse—to get to the future, which was beckoning us over to try something completely new, in the voice of Timothy Leary, high as a kite, maybe dead, with a fistful of new pills, in a far-off Marin County hot tub.

One of the developer dudes, Andrew Unger, walked me home. Unger started Lifebooker—a hit spa and beauty services app—and now he’s looking for Glassertunities. We traded ideas. He riffed on the Singularity. I stopped caring about the former friends of mine strolling by, no doubt deciding we were Glassholes. Maybe we were—but. . .well, but nothing! I explain myself no more! No more irritating reach for elusive fact or reason! That’s for old media, criticism and reviews, with all their arguments and resistance to progress! I am pure light!

Unger’s going to do big things with Glass. Me too. It’s charging again, on the little table next to my hairbrush, but wait till I’m back out there—making more videos, sharing them on Google+, having a biological-technological ball. I know the Google guy said “ease into it,” and man I hope I’m not getting carried away but I’m sure it’s fine! And if you don’t get my references, to Oppenheimer or Emerson or Keats or Ray Kurzweil, just say, “OK, Glass, Google ‘Transparent Eyeball.’”

Oh, but you don’t have. . .oh, I see. Would you like to try mine?

*

Previously, in the Glass Menagerie:
Part I: Initiation

Part II: Yes, Um

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