Why 'Glassholes' Are a Myth

No, Google Glass users aren't obnoxious snoops violating everyone's privacy while tuning out the world.
Posted December 4, 2013

Mike Elgan

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Google Glass is taking technology-based privacy violation and rudeness to a whole new level, right?

Google Glass users are "plugged into the machine," casually surveilling everyone around them and tuning out their family and friends while being distracted all day by that little screen over their right eyes.

Or so we're told. But is it true?

It's no longer a theoretical question. While Google Glass probably won't ship commercially for another year or so, its first direct competitor, called the Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses, started shipping this week. The smart glasses era has officially dawned.

The past week has been jam-packed with Glassholes in the news.

The Restaurant Guy

A Google Glass user named Nick Starr recently got into an argument with the manager of the Lost Lake Cafe in Seattle when he was asked to take off Glass or leave the restaurant.

Rather than staying quiet about it, Starr ranted on Facebook and Google+ that the restaurant actually encouraged customers to take smartphone photos and post them on Instagram (the posts have since been deleted). He demanded an apology and called for the manager to have his pay docked or be fired.

The restaurant hit back on Facebook, saying video recording in general and Glass in particular are banned in the restaurant. The restaurant manager told a reporter for Forbes that the restaurant wants to protect customers from the feeling that they're being watched.

People online are holding up Starr's behavior in the restaurant and the subsequent Facebook feud as evidence that his is one of the feared "Glassholes."

The Mall Guy

Comedian Ed Bassmaster pulled a prank on unsuspecting mall-goers for the entertainment of Bassmaster's YouTube audience.

Basically, Bassmaster walked around the mall being loud and annoying while pretending to talk to the Google Glass headset he was wearing, loudly saying things like: "Google Glass diarrhea remedies" and generally creating awkward situations with victims who didn't know who he was talking to.

Hilarious material! What a Glasshole.

The Poker Guy

A writer for Esquire, A.J. Jacobs, wrote a piece for the current issue in which he describes his experiment to push the boundaries of being a Glasshole. He tried to read Moby Dick using Glass. He used them to cheat his friends at poker. He watched YouTube videos while shopping in the grocery store.

Glassholes are everywhere these days. Or are they?

The Starr story, the Bassmaster stunt and the Jacobs experiment are cultural artifacts of a social anxiety about Google Glass -- or about new technology with Glass as an iconic stand-in for those fears. Without understanding the reality about Google Glass, people allow their fears to take hold. But what do they fear?

I think some people fear a world in which people are combined with machines. The "Borg" is often evoked. (The Borg is a fictional race in the Star Trek series in which individuals were plugged into the Collective or Hive, through technology, losing their individuality and operating like slaves of the group.)

People fear a world in which their privacy is invaded everywhere they go, where cameras are always watching.

Google Glass is often assumed to magnify the social problems of smartphones, specifically driving an impulse to ignore the people we're with in order to pay attention to something online or someone elsewhere.

This fear may grow as more people embrace new features and accessories available for Glass. For example, stereo earbuds, and a Google Play Music app to go with it, became available recently. The ability of Google Glass users to tune out the people around them will be not only magnified, but obviously so thanks to those big earbuds.

Writer Jolie O'Dell, writing for VentureBeat, said that "If you're using [Glass] recreationally, not professionally to complete a task, don't kid yourself -- it's not enhancing your life. It's robbing you of the joy of actually experiencing your life."

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Tags: Google, Google Glass, wearables

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