Yesterday Elle magazine revealed a new line of Google Glass designed by the haute-couture, one-time princess Diane von Fürstenburg. As I type this, I'll admit that I'm not the first owner of either of the shirts that I'm wearing and I know next to nothing about DVF as a brand or person. So my opinion that her rainbow-mirror wrap-around sunglasses look like a six-year-old's idea of cool shouldn't count for much. But I will say that if this is how Google is trying to overcome the least of the problems with Glass—by adding a fashionable $1,620 designer line—it only exacerbates Glass's other, much larger problems.
Look, I'm not a Glass-hater. Which is to say, I don't mean to be. There's just something repulsive about them that I feel in a really visceral and pointed way—and I'm not the only one.
It's not just the invasion of the secular sacred space of the human face. It's not just the potential for privacy violations both by their user and of their user. It's not just the way Google Glass rides around on the bridge of noses that seem to look down on the Glass-less—although from the moment they were introduced and Sergey Brin called using smartphones “emasculating,” all the way up to the incredibly condescending and patronizing responses that Glass users sent us after we poked fun at rich people who fucking love their face appliance, that's certainly been part of it.
It's not just those things, though.
Something closely related, but still distinct, is the way they feel forced onto a world that by and large hates them. Yeah, that's true of a lot of technology; it's resisted until it becomes part of your life. But Glass's rise seems to neatly encapsulate how Google—and by extension Silicon Valley and, hell, probably, the 21st century—went from quirky, rainbow colored, and “Don't Be Evil,” to something much darker.
Google and Silicon Valley occasionally describe themselves in utopian terms, but they're nevertheless plagued by the same problems as anywhere else. In some ways they're the cause. For all its northern California charm, Google also has a class divide in its own corporate structure. Google buses are the physical manifestation of the class divide in San Francisco, and the company is part of an emerging economy doing the same worldwide—concentrating wealth among the few at the top. If the runaway success of a certain economics book is any indication, this is a society-wide concern.
Mat Honan's great piece at Wired, “I, Glasshole” of course already explained all this much better than I. Wearing Glass, Honan explained, “sets you apart from everyone else. It says you not only had $1,500 to plunk down to be part of the “explorer” program, but that Google deemed you special enough to warrant inclusion ... Glass is a class divide on your face.”
And the worst part of Honan's piece is that he concludes that wearable tech is inevitable. It's not just a disparity of income at work; it's the disparity of power as well. We naïve Glass-hating Luddites might be in the majority, but our visceral hatred for Glass won't stop it any more than our visceral hatred for Google accounts overtaking YouTube profiles stopped that. More than choosing your own clothing or consumer tech—things that I'm all for—Google Glass is a choice that's been made for you: This is the world you're going to live in, whether you want to or not.
"So they bring in someone from high fashion, a industry built on making status symbols that divide who is 'in' and who is poor."
To take a moment to abstract your feelings on the subject and consider it from Google's point of view: Your product inspires mean nicknames and your company is starting to embody a tone-deafness bordering on contempt for your customers. Your employees are showing up late to work because people are protesting your company in the streets. From this, Google concludes that the biggest issue is just that people look stupid or self-conscious while wearing their product? As a solution, they bring in someone from high fashion, a industry built on making status symbols that divide who is "in" and who is poor.
And watching the video just makes all of those other misgivings scream too. “The nice thing about sunglasses is that I can't tell you're not looking at me,” the self-described “technophobic” journalist tells Diane as the designer sits in the company's flagship store in Lower Manhattan.
Is that nice? Did the pitch meeting in Mountain View begin by someone asking, “Who better to assuage America's fears of being secretly photographed and filmed without our consent than the people whose lives revolve around being photographed?”
To her credit, Diane has a laid back yet earnest-seeming affection for Google Glass, and she's been a taste-maker ever since she decided she didn't want to just be a princess. But if she wanted to calm people and lawmakers who want to create Glass-free zones, like when you're driving for instance, my advice is to not say, “You can be driving and watching a movie...[I know] I probably shouldn't say that,” as the Daily Mail quoted her as saying.
For a company that openly collects all of your data the whole thing is so tone deaf and hideous that it doesn't seem real.
Google Glass is portrayed as “the future,” while at the same time, its very existence reinforces the idea—one that surfaces in science fiction from Metropolis through Soylent Green up to Elysium—that there isn't “a future.” There's the future for the rich wearing designer computers on their beautiful, unaging faces, and there's the future for everyone else. And there's nothing you can do about it.