Are we destined to become Glassholes?

I felt inspired to write something about an exhibit I saw at the very wonderful Oakland Museum of California recently. In a little, low tech mock-up garage within the California History gallery, I discovered an homage to the innovators of Silicon Valley: photos of the HP garage, the Steve Jobs garage, the first big tech campus in Menlo Park– and shelves stacked with  plastic milk crates full of  motherboards, cables, and other paraphernalia  from the early days of computer technology. There were even some of the early personal computers on display.  Don’t they already look like dinosaurs? Those boxy plastic things with their tiny green screens? So much has changed in such a short period of time.

Life before plug and play: UNIVAC 1232 (photo courtesy of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)

Along with the bits and pieces of computers, museum-goers  have an opportunity to contribute to the exhibit. This sign caught my eye:

How has YOUR life changed because of computer technology?


Vistitors are invited to add comments using state-of-the-art low-tech materials: pencils and paper. The handwritten comments are then clipped onto a cable strung between the boards on the “garage” wall.
Some of the comments are heartbreaking (repetitive stress leading to job loss, elimination of jobs, less human interaction), and some are humorous (not getting to practice one’s penmanship). Incidentally,  how is your handwriting these days? Mine used to be very good, and now. . .well, it’s gotten pretty sloppy. Cursive? Another dinosaur.

To illustrate how Twitter and Facebook have infiltrated our patterns of communication, I whipped out my phone and took this picture:

Note: This comment gets an “Amen!” in addition to 2–no, make that 3–“Likes” and one hashtag: #yes)

Got questions?What do you want to know?

Extra points for writing in cursive!

It’s true: the bar bet is dead. Arguments over the name of  “that guy who was in that thing” you saw ten or fifteen years ago are also a relic of the past. A couple of clicks replace hours of brain-racking. Imagine  how much mental energy we save by not having to think and remember. Thanks, Google.

Right after I saw this exhibit, I read the article by novelist Gary Shteyngart in the August 5 issue of The New Yorker. He wrote “O.K., Glass: Confessions of a Google Glass Explorer” after having won a Twitter contest run by Google in search of “the first batch of Glass Explorers.” He quickly becomes a head-jerking, temple-tapping rock star in the eyes of people who figure out that the pair of odd-looking glasses he has on are Google Glass.  The caption under the photograph of Shteyngart wearing them: “I hear that in San Francisco the term “Glassholes” is already current, but in New York I am a conquering hero.”

No stranger to the technological capabilities of his iPhone, Shteyngart describes how his phone had become a “frightening appendage to a life of already sizable anxiety. . .a sadistic life coach constantly reminding me that, whatever I was doing, there were more fascinating things to be done.” He had transformed into “an occasional rather than a voracious reader, a curator of my life rather than a participant, a man who could walk through a stunning national park while looking up stunning national parks.”

It didn’t take long for him to warm up to the Glass, though. The urge to “tap and slide at one’s touch pad and make circular motions with one’s head can be overwhelming.”  Take a picture, find the closest Thai restaurant, send a video: all the stuff you do with a smartphone and more. So much more.  Camera, microphone, touch pad, projector screen–all right there in your glasses. Imagine.

One evening last week, I walked through the Union Square area in San Francisco. Tourists gather around the square, the cable car turnaround, and the large department stores, mostly shivering in their seasonally inappropriate clothing. Several times, I found myself behind a slow-moving flock of young men or women, walking three to four abreast on the sidewalk, eyes down, thumbs flying, oblivious to the flow of pedestrians jammed up behind them: a common sight everywhere we go these days. Classic cellphomaniac behavior.  In the same issue of the magazine as the Google Glass article, there’s a cartoon showing people crossing a downtown street, tapping long white canes in front of themselves, while they stare down at their phones.

Is this, finally, what opposable thumbs have wrought?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my iPhone, even though I was a late adopter. I check it.  Often. Sometimes compulsively. But do I now have to fear becoming a Glasshole? Is this my destiny?

Will this newest gadget prove to be irresistible as we retreat further into our heads–when our link to everything is actually ON our heads? Speaking to us?

I’m not ready for that.
What about you?  See for yourself.
Update as of 3/19/14:  Today’s San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Stanford Court Hotel’s lobby bar is offering a free drink to anyone who shows up wearing Google Glass. OK, Glass: bottoms up!
Thanks to tedeytan  andGiuseppe Costantino for making these Google Glass images  available under the Attribution-ShareAlike license

4 Responses to Are we destined to become Glassholes?

  1. I started working in Silicon Valley in the 80s. At some point, though, I got behind the curve a bit and now I’m hugely behind the curve. And, I’m glad. I want to enjoy 1/1 conversations in real time real life in person. I don’t want to be glued to technology all the time, although I AM glued to my Mac all day long and sometimes half the night. Balance, balance…thank God I will never be a Glasshole. 😉

    • Risa Nye says:

      Yes, balance is the key. I do wonder about the future, though. Never thought I’d be this glued to my phone, and yet…but I hope to avoid becoming a Glasshole too!

  2. I love the opportunities for connecting provided by tech. It actually makes me appreciate face-to-face communication and handwritten corresponding more. It’s far more precious the more rare it becomes.

    That said, I’d be interested in being a glasshole… just for a day so I could say I tried it. 😀

Leave a reply