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

  • BlackBerry's meltdown sparks start-up boom in Canada's Silicon Valley
    BlackBerry's meltdown sparks start-up boom in Canada's Silicon Valley

    By Sayantani Ghosh, Ashutosh Pandey and Euan Rocha (Reuters) - The troubles at BlackBerry Ltd, which fired more than half its staff and lost more than 90 percent of its market value as consumers shunned its smart phones, might have spelled disaster for the company's hometown of Waterloo, Ontario. More than 450 start-ups opened for business in the twin cities of Waterloo and Kitchener last year, more than four times the number begun in 2009, according to Communitech, a local company that advises them. Often, the new companies are being founded by former BlackBerry employees chasing their entrepreneurial ambitions in a community that's Canada's answer to technology hubs in California and elsewhere. "For those who are trying to get a new tech business off the ground, get it funded, and not get lost in the shadow of Silicon Valley, Waterloo can be the best place to get your company on the map," said Sean McCabe, vice-president of engineering at drone manufacturer Aeryon Labs Inc in Waterloo.

  • Bank of Canada says inflation rise hasn't shaken neutral stance
    Bank of Canada says inflation rise hasn't shaken neutral stance

    By Louise Egan and Leah Schnurr OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian central bank chief Stephen Poloz said on Wednesday an interest rate cut is still a possibility even though the bank forecasts inflation will pick up speed this year and approach its 2 percent target. The Bank of Canada held its benchmark interest rate at 1 percent, as expected, extending a 3-1/2 year freeze on borrowing costs.

  • Energy sector to drive Canada first-quarter profit gains

    By John Tilak TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian companies are expected to post solid profit gains when they begin unveiling first-quarter results next week, with robust earnings at energy companies seen overcoming weakness at miners and the materials sector. Energy companies will benefit from a ramp-up in production, improved prices for Canadian crude relative to global benchmarks, and a rally in natural gas prices.

  • For Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, boring is beautiful

    Investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc posted better-than-expected quarterly earnings on Thursday, helped by gains in merger advisory and stock underwriting. The results underscored how businesses viewed as stodgy before the financial crisis are becoming critical drivers of earnings for investment banks now. Goldman's investment management, stock underwriting and merger advisory businesses logged big gains. Morgan Stanley did well in those areas, as well as in wealth management and bond underwriting.

  • GM to seek court protection against ignition lawsuits
    GM to seek court protection against ignition lawsuits

    GM has said it is protected from liability for claims related to incidents that occurred before it exited bankruptcy in 2009, and has taken steps to raise those issues with the court by filing motions to stay recall-related lawsuits while it asks that bankruptcy court to clarify the extent of that protection. In a filing with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on Tuesday, GM asked for a stay on litigation related to ignition claims until a judicial panel on multidistrict litigation decides on a motion to consolidate the case with other lawsuits and the bankruptcy court rules on whether the claims violate GM's 2009 bankruptcy sale order. The company earlier filed a similar motion with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California seeking a stay on pending litigation. The defect has been linked to the deaths of at least 13 people and the recall of 2.6 million GM vehicles.

  • Exclusive: GM says recalled cars safe, but has not tested for knee-bump danger
    Exclusive: GM says recalled cars safe, but has not tested for knee-bump danger

    By Julia Edwards and Eric Beech WASHINGTON (Reuters) - General Motors says that cars being recalled because of faulty ignition switches can be driven safely before repairs, based on more than 80 tests, but the automaker has not addressed a problem long known to potentially shut off the engine: a simple bump from a driver's knee. Safety advocates and engineers say the lack of testing for this factor undermines GM's claims that the cars are safe. As early as 2004, GM engineers complained that the ignition switch could be turned off if the key was bumped by a knee. A Texas judge on Thursday allowed the unrepaired cars to stay on the road, over the objection of safety advocates and plaintiffs lawyers who said there is no way, short of repairs, to ensure the ignition switch would not slip out of the run position, turning off the motor and disabling power steering, power brakes and airbags.

  • U.S. delay pushes Canada oil pipeline choke points upstream

    By Nia Williams CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc is on the brink of breaking through oil pipeline bottlenecks in the U.S. Midwest that have dogged the company for nearly four years, potentially ending a need to ration space at the heart of its network. But here's the rub: Relieving congestion downstream is simply likely to expose choke points further upstream, traders say, as unexpected delays in securing a U.S. permit to expand a major segment of its 5,363km (3,333 mile) Mainline system leaves Canada's heavy crude bottled up for months more. But a parallel project to expand the northwestern leg of the system called Alberta Clipper, which runs from Alberta's oil sands to just south of the U.S. border in Minnesota, has been delayed by as long as a year. As a result, traders and analysts say the bottleneck will simply shift into Canada, leaving cash crude prices under pressure well into 2015.

  • Mt. Gox set to liquidate as court denies rehabilitation
    Mt. Gox set to liquidate as court denies rehabilitation

    Mt. Gox, once the world's biggest bitcoin exchange, is likely to be liquidated after a Tokyo court dismissed the company's bid to resuscitate its business, the court-appointed administrator said on Wednesday. CEO Mark Karpeles is also likely to be investigated for liability in the collapse of the Tokyo-based firm, the provisional administrator, lawyer Nobuaki Kobayashi, said in a statement published on the Mt. Gox website. "The Tokyo District Court recognized that it would be difficult for the company to carry out the civil rehabilitation proceedings and dismissed the application for the commencement of the civil rehabilitation proceedings," he said. In Wednesday's order for provisional administration, the court put the company's assets under Kobayashi's control until bankruptcy proceedings officially commence and a bankruptcy trustee is named.

Follow Yahoo! News