A 33-Year-Old NPR Story Convinced Me Google Glass Will Stop Looking So Dorky Soon

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - 10:58 AM


Google showed off a new version of Google Glass yesterday.

Glass now works with actual prescription glasses frames, and in general it's been redesigned to look less clunky and dorky. I think that even with the redesign, Glass looks pretty silly. In fact, up until this morning, I couldn't imagine that Glass would ever not seem too silly for mainstream users.  And then I caught this quote from a Verge interview with Google Glass’s lead designer, Isabelle Olsson.

Olsson is pretty relaxed when the weirdness of Glass comes up — it's obviously the most common question she has to face when talking about the product. "It's interesting to see the parallels with headphones," she says. "The fact that people walk around with these huge headphones is kind of crazy, in a way. But now you don't think about it as technology, you think about it as something that delivers music to you."

This comparison felt fishy to me. Were people really that skeptical of Walkmen? After all, headphones were around for a long time before Walkmen were invented. A century had passed where people had gotten used to headphones, worn them at home. All Walkmen did was to take a familiar invention and make it portable.

But then I checked, and it turns out Olsson is right. Here’s the proof: a NPR story originally broadcast in 1981, when Walkmen were still pretty new. It’s mostly a series of man-on-the-street interviews, and people express a disgust for the newfangled invention that's very, very familiar:

    “They're obnoxious.”
    “It looks stupid to me. Some people approve of it, you know. It's fine if - privacy your home, you know?”
    “Yeah, people do kind of look funny and they kind of look, like, you know, pretty smug when I'm wearing them and everything.”
    “ You know, it's nice when you're walking around to hear other people talking and see what they're doing. And you're kind of putting blinders on.”
    “ It causes people to isolate themselves from their experience, the contact with nature - sort of, a neo-existential prelude to doom.”

The line that chimed hardest for me actually came from Steve Profitt, the reporter:

PROFITT: You know, next thing they should do is have a little movies, you know, little sunglass movies so you don't have to look, either.

So, yeah. I guess a lot of inventions seem dorky, smug, and alienating. And then, a few years later, they become so normal that it’s hard to imagine life without them.


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Comments [17]

ventolin63 from New York

The problem with Glass os that is wore ON THE FACE. As someone who started very early in his life wearing glasses I had a front row seat to the jokes, abuse and generally disrespectful attitude that people have towards somebody wearing them. Now, some of that has changed with time (acceptance played a big role) but people still get to that 'four eyes comment' very quickly if it's something that bothers them! That being said, I personally belive that Glass will go 'Segway's route' much faster than anticipated. Not because that you automaticly get a !diot label stamped on your forehead for the fact that you paid 1500$ for something that is basicly a glorified camera for peeping Toms, or just because you look like Star Trek when you're wearing it (which is really a fashion statement that shouts ' virginity is strong with this one').Why it would fail it's simply because Google's engineers, in their extreme wiseness, forgot to put a 2 cent LED light onto the thing so that people would know when you record them. As we saw with those 'brave explorers' they all got assaulted for the same reason: people like their privacy, and if somebody invades that...well...let's say that those same explorers will need a rëktum+colon spatious enough to serve as a 'temporary GlassHolder' . This is why Glass would fail miserabily in my view. :)

Aug. 19 2014 02:13 AM
Andrew Sleeth from Raleigh, NC

Hey, if this chick comes with them, I'm first in the checkout line!

Feb. 04 2014 07:32 PM
simon from San Jose

I was a Walkman buyer in 1981, and remember well that most amazing thing was the sound quality from such tiny headphones - they had not existed before. As a student, it was irrelevant to me what people thought about my use of this device. Today I am a Google glass owner and feel the experience is quite different. I am only really comfortable wearing my GG in public with the sunglass attachment - without this, it does look dorky. As for privacy concerns, it is an absurd paranoia - the absolute primary use of GG is the receipt of information, not taking videos or pictures; there's just not enough memory to do that. I do agree however that taking them off in appropriate circumstances is right - just like taking off a Bluetooth headset...

Feb. 01 2014 12:16 PM
xoxisosisosdiuxixyxux from Planet Earth AKA Land of Future-Hitlers

The thing here is that headphones don't fucking record you without your consent. Google glass is an invasion of everybody's privacy and that far outweighs any stupid gimmicky bullshit "benefits". There's no way to assure anyone that they won't be recorded and don't give me that "if you aren't doing anything wrong..." bullshit. I don't want to be recorded FULL STOP, I obey the laws and one of my inalienable human rights happens to be fucking PRIVACY. And yes, they still look fucking dorky.

Jan. 31 2014 09:26 AM
samdefran from Park Slope

Wearing google glass when you interact with someone is disrespectful. So is wearing headphones when you interact with someone. Not sure how this is confusing for people. Google glass is a status symbol that makes other people uncomfortable. Go ahead and wear them when you talk to me, I certainly won't listen to you. And yes I will ask you to take them off. It just makes you look silly; like some moron in his $1M porsche convertible blasting music wearing a 30k watch, talking super loud on his bluetooth headset - DOUCHE BAG!! These people will always want to buy things that make them feel better about themselves due to their low self esteem and general lack of real friendships or human relationships. Furthermore, if you want to spend time with your smart phone rather than have a decent conversation then just excuse yourself and handle your business. Don't be on your computer while you half assedly try to connect with other people. Its just outrageous. Same for listening to tunes, that something we do by ourselves,on our commute, on the couch alone, but certainly not when attempting to communicate with other human beings. Hope that makes sense and that others can relate.

Jan. 30 2014 06:25 PM

Maybe but there is a flaw in your logic.

Something once considered dorky is no longer considered dorky, so anything that seems dorky today will one day not seem dorky.

Jan. 30 2014 09:39 AM
John F. McMullen from Jefferson Valley, NY

They don't have to be disconnecting the user from friends or surroundings. As for "invasion of privacy", people can do that now will cellphones -- I can do it with my watch -- but no one should take pictures in locker rooms -- or to embarrass anyone -- as for other pictures, why should anyone care.

Google Glass is the future just use it properly

Jan. 30 2014 07:29 AM
Goofball Jones

Yes, all these new-fangled gadgets are making people less social. Certainly wasn't like that in the old days!


Jan. 30 2014 03:24 AM

This article was written by a dork it seems.

Jan. 30 2014 12:48 AM
Ben from Westchester

I don't buy it at all. I'm old enough to remember the transition to the Walkman -- and it was indeed a transition.

The key is this -- before the Walkman was the era of the boombox and the car stereo. So people were playing their music out loud and the Walkman did seem weird, but mostly it seemed weird because it was taking "private" the whole endeavor of listening, with even the ads that Sony ran touting the silence of someone listening to the new device.

For me, Google Glass is the opposite of the Walkman. That is why it seems pretentious and dorky.

The thing Google Glass is replacing is typically a computer on your desktop or a smart phone in your hand or pocket.

So Google Glass is taking something that was once remote and putting it right on your face. Which, after all, is exactly where someone looks when they talk to you.

The Walkman was taking something that was "in your face" and putting it into your ears. Different game.

Google Glass is more of a Segway for your face.

Jan. 29 2014 11:20 PM
Jim Moskowitz

Jim K., when you wrote, "Even at restaurants, you'll see Glass users sitting with friends and they are completely disconnected from the conversation that their non-glass friends are having", I believe you misspelled "smartphone".

Jan. 29 2014 09:11 PM
John Anderson

Apples and oranges: headphones didn't open up whole new opportunities for people to surreptitiously invade the privacy of those who happen to be near them.

Jan. 29 2014 05:29 PM
Steven Groves from Denver, CO

I'm one of those dorky Glass Explorers and have been wearing my Glass on a periodic basis, but not everyday - yet. I find the functionality to be handiest when I am out vs. sitting in the office, so there are many times I recognize my situation and have no issue with removing the device when engaged in a discussion with others or at dinner with friends.

Less enlightened people who have the device and are all about pushing them into other peoples faces are becoming know as 'glass-holes' - we have them for sure, but culturally, we'll adapt and see wearable computing much more common in the the next few years.

Jan. 29 2014 01:45 PM

Headphones still look dorky to me, first; second, the difference that will doom glass to Segway status is the camera. Very few of us feel comfortable speaking to someone pointing a camera at us, and that won't change just because it's tiny and/or "styish".

Jan. 29 2014 12:36 PM
Jim K. from Palo Alto, CA

What's more important when walking around? Your eyes or your ears? Living in Palo Alto, I can't count how many times I've had to dodge Google Glass users just walking the downtown sidewalks, they're completely disconnected from their environs. Even at restaurants, you'll see Glass users sitting with friends and they are completely disconnected from the conversation that their non-glass friends are having.

Maybe there's a place for Google Glass technology in our society. I'm just skeptical if I want Google's software engineers to be the ones setting the etiquette around its use and implementation.

Jan. 29 2014 12:06 PM
Duffy Johnson from Albuquerque. NM

So excellent.

Jan. 29 2014 11:43 AM

I dunno, I still think some folks find headphones (particularly the cans) alienating.

I used to wander around all the time with my earbuds in (mostly listening to NPR podcasts) while I was walking across campus. I would leave them in as I rode the elevator and then walk to my office, where I removed them and started working. I got to be known as "the girl with the headphones" and it became fairly clear that some of the other folks in the office considered it unprofessional. And indeed, I've stopped wearing earbuds except at home or working out.

And, when I see students with cans on, they seem zoned out and unresponsive to the other folks in the room.

Jan. 29 2014 11:41 AM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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