The week of September 14, 2014

My first year with Glass

By Taylor Hatmaker

I wanted to love Google Glass—and for a while I did. In a way, I still do. I realize I’m very nearly alone in this. Loving Glass has been a solitary experience. Slowly, it’s been shamed out of me. Like a nervous habit endearing until it wasn’t or a kink your partner humored until the sex dulled, I downplay the urgency with which I love Glass. But it doesn’t change anything.

I signed up for Google’s experiment almost without hesitation. At Google I/O two years ago, moments after it debuted on stage with much fanfare and some skydiving, we were invited to sign up. At a glassy counter staffed by attractive Googlers wearing an early prototype, I agreed to pay $1,500 for a thing I didn’t really understand but knew I needed.

The following April, Google pulled my number—#961, forever commemorated by a little glass plaque. Given my choice of colors, I chose “cotton,” a Googly sort of white, over two kinds of grey, sky blue, and tangerine. And then I started checking my doorstep.

In Google’s Garden of Eden, suddenly I was naked.

When the box arrived, unceremoniously wedged on my front porch next to a potted plant, Glass and I were inseparable. I vowed to wear it for a week straight to immerse myself, and it was easy.

At first, Glass was like having a puppy. Everywhere I went people stopped me to ask me “what it was like” (interesting!) and “how I liked it” (I liked it!).

But it didn’t take long before the questions took a turn. Curious delight mutated into a kind of wariness. Strangers wondered “if I was recording them right now” (no, but your odds just went up considerably). It started to take longer to go buy a carton of milk. In Google’s Garden of Eden, suddenly I was naked.

At first I left Glass on the shelf every few days. I used it around the house but stopped wearing it out, whether to tech events or a half-hungover brunch. I still pulled it out for every monthly software update. Then I stopped charging it altogether.

Less than six months in, I started going weeks without wearing it. It sat in my desk—the desk where the plaque, #961, still sat on top. In recent months, I moved the plaque into the left drawer of my desk—the one I don’t open much. Writing this, I’m actually not sure where Glass is, though I did charge it for the purposes of this story. That was weeks ago.

Some things I did wearing Glass early on:

  • Went on a date
  • Took a flight
  • Got coffee (a lot)
  • Visited Microsoft’s campus
  • Gardened
  • Went on a road trip
  • Had sex
  • Had brunch

In the beginning, using Glass regularly eased the cravings in what felt (and still feels) like my unhealthy addiction to my phone. Or rather, the addiction to the promise of my phone—the surprises that each new chirp might signify. Glass became a relationship counselor, mediating my exchanges with my phone, softening them, filtering them thoughtfully and only telling me what my phone really meant to say. It was all signal, no noise. With the pop-up glow of a tiny user interface to soothe me, life felt quieter.

Glass became a relationship counselor, mediating my exchanges with my phone.

Glass is the anti-FOMO (or “fear of missing out”), a misunderstood cure to a psychological malaise that snakes out of our smartphone screens, making slow, deliberate loops around our necks. Halfway through dinner, if my phone makes a bloop—or was it a bling?—I’m itching, physically itching, to flip it over just for that fraction of a moment’s relief. Checking a phone is very rarely interesting. It’s more often the equivalent of clicking a baiting headline—you’ll never guess what no one just texted you.

These blings and chirps and bloops and dings are literally engineered to train us. Industry data giants like Facebook and Google can algorithmically predict our behavior down to the next click, and the engineers know to dole out rewards intermittently—an email we’d waited for, a pleasant text from an old friend, maybe. It’s addiction spliced with obsessive compulsion; our nervous habits only find relief in the checking itself.

The content of the text (yep, your package shipped), the pop (someone liked a post that someone liked on Facebook!), none of it matters; the content is of no consequence. The mental and physical gestures, slight as they may be—sliding a phone out of a back pocket, tuning our ears to varied chirps—exert a control that approaches totality. Glass isn’t the enemy—it’s the thing from the future sent to make us hate ourselves a little less.

Don’t shoot the messenger. (Well, unless the messenger is Messenger.)

Looking back at the very first story I wrote about Google Glass, then called Project Glass, the device’s vision remains true to form. The story of mine, the first on Glass that ran in USA Today, holds up two years later. In April 2012, Google came clean with its intention to build an augmented reality visor: “We think technology should work for you—to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t.” Google introduced Glass in a video because you had to see it to believe it. Like Oculus and virtual reality, you still do.

If one single thing has kept me from wearing Google Glass every day, it’s that other people aren’t ready to go there.

This generation of Google Glass is not without flaws, but most of them are surmountable. Battery life remains pretty awful. Google is an advertising company—one studded with plenty of bright-eyed dreamers, but still an advertising company. The price is a massive problem, one that lends plenty of credence to the Glasshole archetype.

But the fatal flaw might be one of timing. True to form for Google X, Mountain View’s cash-glutted dream factory, Google Glass might have debuted a solid five years too early. In consumer technology, forward jolts make people nervous. They usually want to be walked through the process, hitting the comfortable if boring data points on the way from A to X. To get to Glass, or perhaps to get back to Glass, we’ll have to wade through smartwatches and fitness trackers first. If one single thing has kept me from wearing Google Glass every day, it’s that other people aren’t ready to go there.

Right now, something is broken and I don’t know what that is. But from wearing Glass for a year, steadily at first, less as the months wore on, I know that Glass helps fix it.

I catch myself hating the Internet. That line of thinking is flawed, of course, but I hate something about how I am doing the Internet. I find myself increasingly convinced that a combination of interconnectivity and all-too-human lapses in will power—all of the checking and the liking and the going and rifling around, the listless batting at the Internet until the candy falls out—has rewired my brain for the worse, possibly irrevocably.

But as a 20-something digital native, the Internet is my home. I’ve certainly spent more cumulative time living online than I have in any one place. It’s where I live. I’d like to stop commuting.

Photos by PCMag and DeviantART | Remix by Max Fleishman