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Google Glass No-No's

Google Glass: What You're Not Supposed to Do

There are certain things you won't be encouraged to do wearing one of these. Those are the things I did.

By A.J. Jacobs
Published in the December 2013 issue
Google Glass may or may not transform the future. But one thing is beyond question: It elicits mighty strong reactions in the present.

The first week I got my tiny new face computer, I wore it to a barbecue and sat down at a table to eat pasta salad. "That is the most annoying thing in the world," snapped a mom of twins, pointing at my new gadget from across the table.

"I disagree," I responded.

"No, really. It is."

"One second," I said. I tapped the black frames with my finger to turn the device on. "Okay, Glass, Google 'What is the most annoying thing in the world?'
In the miniscreen perched above my right eye, an article popped up. I clicked on it. I scrolled. She waited.

"All right, I have a list from The Daily Telegraph with the top hundred most annoying things. There's people who drive too close to you. Noisy eaters. Rude clerks. No Google Glass."

She remained unconvinced. Instead she yammered on about privacy invasion, the failure to embrace real life, the evils of distraction, the usual.

Yet, earlier that same day, several strangers had approached me — some timid, some nearly giddy — as if I were a minor celebrity, perhaps a judge on a cable food show. "Are they as awesome as people say?" "Where can I get the Google Goggles?" "Mind if I try them on?" (For all the fears of privacy advocates, it was mostly my privacy that was invaded.)

As with cilantro and Hillary Clinton, there's not a lot of middle ground. Google Glass — which will be released for sale to the public sometime in 2014 — has become the flash point in the war between tech-fearing, Jonathan-Franzen-admiring, our-kids-should-play-with-wooden-blocks types and the self-quantifying, singularity-loving, Cloud-computing-will-save-the-world evangelists.

The author in basic training at Google in New York.

After much cajoling, and my solemn pledge to get contact lenses, Google sold me an early prototype for $1,500. I would be one of eight thousand "Explorers" — a group of engineers, scientists, artists, and journalists allowed to test it out. At the Glass office in New York (huge windows, free tea sandwiches), I got a crash course on how to connect my Glass to the Internet, take video, snap a photo, get directions, search for nearby Taco Bells, return e-mails, make calls, and watch CNN — all without the daunting effort of reaching into my pocket for my smartphone. I was also advised about what I should definitely not do.

So that's what I would do. My mission: I would push Glass to its limits to give me a glimpse of the real-life utopia and/or dystopia that awaits.


The first few days are a mix of exhilaration and frustration. One minute I'm marveling, "Holy crap, this street map moves when I turn my head!" The next I'm having heated arguments with Glass's voice-recognition feature: "CNN. Not Rihanna. CNN! CNN!" That's not to mention the added challenge of friends who sneak up behind me and shout inappropriate Google searches to clog my browser's history. "Okay, Glass, Google 'NAMBLA membership application'!" (The phrase "Okay, Glass" is the device's required verbal ignition key.)

The tiny screen (roughly three quarters of an inch by half an inch) takes some getting used to. For a while, I was squinting half the day, but I've now learned to adjust. You have to point your eyeballs up and to the right, so you spend a lot of time looking as if you're trying to do long division in your head.
Glass is designed to display short snippets of text: quick e-mails such as "See you at Sbarro at 10:00." Or CNN headline updates, like LIZARD SUSPECTED OF EATING NEIGHBOR'S CAT (which I was helpfully informed of at the doctor's office).

As the Google publicist told me, Glass is not meant for poring over two-thousand-word articles.
Yet what's the harm in trying? In fact, why not use my Glass to read something even more substantial, like Moby-Dick? Imagine the joy of having a tiny great work of literature in front of your face at all times.

As my wife drives the family to our friend's house in Connecticut, I ride shotgun, tilt my head back, and dive into some nineteenth-century fiction. "Okay, Glass, Google 'Moby-Dick full text,' " I say. I find a free file from Princeton University. The problem? The sentences don't fit on the screen. If I want to finish a line, I have to turn my head to the right, then shift it back to the left. I look like a spectator at Wimbledon or a five-year-old throwing a tantrum. I'm also carsick.

"Can you stop?" my wife asks. "It's very distracting."

His view on the highway before returning to Moby Dick

After a half-hour break, I try again. I find another version of Moby-Dick that fits on the screen.
I start to read. It's both strange and wonderful. The words float against the sky above the Saw Mill River Parkway. The text is so close to my eyes, the book feels like it's inside my brain. I'm in my own secret world, like the kid with the flashlight under the blanket, but without the flashlight or blanket.
I've never read Moby-Dick, and the details seem so visceral up close: Queequeg harpooning the breakfast beefsteaks from across the table, or draping his tattooed arm over Ishmael during a forced spooning. And who knew Melville was such a cranky bastard, an early Louis C.K., with his urge to step into the street and start "methodically knocking people's hats off"?

After forty-five minutes, I get an ice-pick headache and have to stop. I later tell some tech-loathing book-world friends, who react with horror — as if reading on an iPad weren't bad enough. In their honor, I read a long article on my Glass called "35 Arguments Against Google Glass," which gives me an ironic thrill.

Literature verdict: briefly fantastic. Use caution.


One of Glass's mostimpressive features is that it can live-stream video from your point of view. Anyone can see the world through your eyes. If you're at the grocery store facing a baffling array of tomato sauces, just video-call your wife. On her laptop, she can scan the shelf and tell you to get the seven-herb Robusto. Very useful.

Also useful? Invite some friends over for poker and have your cousin who's a professional poker player in Vegas secretly observe your cards from his laptop and signal to you how to bet.
I have such a cousin. He agreed to the plan. I'd be his poker body, he'd be my poker brain. Together we'd create The Sting 2.0.

My cousin and I spend the day practicing our scheme. On his computer, he can see my cards. On my walnut-sized screen, I can see a teensy version of him holding up handwritten signs, like FOLD. Or RAISE TEN DOLLARS. Or CALL. I keep my cousin on mute for two reasons: First, I don't want my fellow cardplayers to hear him. And second, he's kind of a cocky bastard.

At 8:00 P.M. on a Thursday, my three unsuspecting friends come to my apartment. They know I'm testing Glass, but I tell them it's only for e-mail. "Are you going to look up whether a straight beats a flush?" my friend Carl jokes. "Ha, ha," I chuckle. "No, nothing like that." (Though it's true I barely know the rules.)

Hustling his friends at poker.

I deal. I lift my hand to show my cousin my jack and six. And…the video goes black. I tap the side of my frames furiously to reconnect. We finally do, but ten seconds later, his image freezes midscribble. Dammit!

I'm stranded. This is awful. After losing a bunch of hands, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom and call my cousin on my cell. We whisper-argue over who is to blame for the technical snafu.
Back at the table, we get the live stream running again. And he holds up the FOLD sign three hands in a row. Ugh. This isn't working.

And then, on an ace-ten, he has me bet ten dollars, then raise fifteen. It's much more aggressive than my usual "I guess I'll call" strategy. We win! I get a head rush.

Another hand, he writes, LET'S BLUFF. BET TWENTY DOLLARS. My friends fold. Another pot! My cousin writes, NOW SHOW YOUR CARDS AND LAUGH. Too late. I've already tossed my cards into the mix. "Wait!" I say. I try to reach back into the pile. My friends give me a puzzled look.
It's thrilling, this freedom from choice, the comfort of knowing that I'm playing like a master. Granted, it's far from a flawless plan. At times, my cousin can't see my hand, even though I shove my nose right up to the cards. The video is spotty and slow (it's a prototype, after all), so I spend a lot of time stalling. "Hmm. Let me think." And, as I mentioned, my cousin has an attitude. CLEAN UP YOUR STACK!! he writes on his whiteboard, his Sharpie cap dangling from his mouth. I stack. He shakes his head. MORE VERTICAL!

At one point, my nine-year-old son joins the game. He gets a good hand, but my cousin senses mine is better and tells me to raise my son forty dollars, the kid's life savings. I can't do it. My cousin writes, PUSSY.

But overall, the plan works surprisingly well. After two hours, I've tripled my money to $200, at which point I confess my sin to my friends and give them back their money.

They seem more baffled than angry. "So what are you seeing? He's in that little thing?" The next day, one friend e-mails to thank me for the night, adding, "despite the fact that I woke up with a somewhat violated feeling that I can't seem to shake."

Poker verdict: delightful. Dangerous.


Three weeks in, class [correction: Glass] and I are getting along better. There are still plenty of annoyances, like accidentally tweeting a photo of the Chipotle counter. But I love taking video of my sons without them getting me and I'm rolling "Oh, Dad." [Correction: without them giving me an eye-rolling "Oh, Dad."] I've successfully Googled the "XYZ affair," "flank steak against the grain," and "burrata cheese."

I'm also getting the hang of the voice-recognition feature. I find Glass prefers in order to perform [correction: Glass prefers a more chipper voice], like I'm a tour guide at Universal theme park. Not my favorite own [correction: tone], but I adjust.

In fact, I have dictated this entire section of the article. Perhaps most impressive: Glass is no prude. It understands and spells out every horrible, naughty word I can think of. And that include sblumpkin. See? Please do not Google that.

Dictation verdict: lawless [correction: flawless].


More than twenty-fiveyears ago, a heavyweight boxer named Mitch Green was arrested for allegedly driving with a working TV mounted on the hood of his car.


I don't plan to drive while watching my Glass — I do enjoying living — but what if I tried to watch video every moment of the day that I'm not operating heavy machinery? My first plan was to stream a series of back-to-back epic movies on my Glass as I ran my errands and made my calls. Unfortunately, Glass isn't yet compatible with Netflix.

Instead, I had to settle for sixteen hours of YouTube. I watch Ali G while at the grocery. I watch a TED talk about bipolar disorder while scrubbing the dishes. While taking my kids to the Museum of Natural History, I creep myself out by watching the "Blurred Lines" video, squinting to make out the world's tiniest nipples.

Things start to spin out of control. How could they not? It's my childhood dream come true, this ever-present TV. My wife approaches me in the kitchen. I can see her mouth moving. I tell her, "I'm watching a Richard Pryor clip about the first black president. If it's important, let me know, and I'll pause." She walks away.

It doesn't help that I'm wearing earplugs to improve the sound quality and occasionally pressing the Glass temple into the bone above my ear.

I begin trying to improve life. When I'm out for a hike, I see a waterfall. It's fine. But why not spice things up with a video of Angel Falls in Venezuela? Now, that's spectacular. I have lunch at Panera Bread, but why not search for video of the inside of Le Bernardin? Sadly, I couldn't find it. But I'm sure I will soon.

I'm worried for reality.

Movies-and-TV verdict: incomplete. But promising.


This brings up the distraction issue. Many say Glass is taking our ADHD culture to its logical, horrible conclusion. But interestingly, Google argues that Glass will make youless distracted. Its position is that you don’t have to look down to see your e-mails. And no more fishing in your pocket to get your iPhone to snap your kid’s violin recital. Just click a button. Technology becomes seamless.

I agree with both sides. If used judiciously, Glass can make you more in the moment, less likely to steal glances at your smartphone. You are relaxed, free from what the kids call FOMO. But the opposite can be true, especially if you overeagerly subscribe to updates from e-mail, Twitter, CNN, The New York Times, and a location-based service that tells me I just passed the site of the 1981 movie My Dinner with André.

The constant dings have turned me into Mr. Magoo. I’ve bumped into a parking sign and stumbled on the sidewalk. My friend Paul says that I’ll soon be saying, “Okay, GlassGoogle ‘Help me, I broke eight ribs.’ ”

Maybe I can put these interruptions to good use. I once read that in ancient Rome, when a general came home victorious, they’d throw him a triumphal parade. But there was always a slave who walked behind the general, whispering in his ear to keep him humble. “You are mortal,” the slave would say.
I’ve always wanted a modern nonslave version of this — a way to remind myself to keep perspective. And Glass seemed the first gadget that would allow me to do that. In the morning, I schedule a series of messages to e-mail myself throughout the day. “You are mortal.” “You are going to die someday.” “Stop being a selfish bastard and think about others.”

I’m waiting in line at the pharmacy when I get a message from myself: “Think about what you are thinking.” I’m stewing about how this woman can’t figure out which way to swipe her debit card. Glass is right: This is not how I want to be using my brainpower.

Outsourced-conscience verdict: Could be a great business. Whose profits I would donate, of course.


I still need to put Glass to the ultimate test: Can it help a guy get some action?

I'm married with three kids, and my wife has made it clear that Glass is not an aphrodisiac for her. So I figured I'd lend my device to a single twenty-six-year-old editor at Esquire. The plan: He'll wear it to a downtown New York bar, and I'll watch the live-stream video from home and tell him what to do. I'll be his Cyrano. I'll get a vicarious night on the town, all while eating my butternut-squash soup in the comfort of my home. I can't wait.

On a Thursday night, Matt enters the bar. We approach a pack of blond twenty-something women from South Carolina.

The scan at the bar.

"I'm doing an article for Esquire magazine on books women read," he says (our prearranged line). "What's your favorite book?"

"I don't read books," says one blond.

The video's not great. I can make out their faces a bit, but I mostly see a glowing candle.
"Mine is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn."

On my laptop, I Google "Tree Grows in Brooklyn quotes." I send an instant message to Matt's Glass. (The bar is too loud for me to talk to him.)

"The world was hers for the reading," says Matt. We are met with a blank face. "That's from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn."

"Are those Google Glasses?" one woman says. "Can I try them on?"

Huh. Not part of the plan, but I guess so. Matt has to explain that she'll be seeing a miniature video of me, so as not to alarm her.

"Hi there!" the woman says.

If the Cyrano strategy isn't working, maybe I can be his virtual wingman. "Isn't Matt handsome?" I message her. "I think he really likes you."

She laughs a bit nervously. Matt, thankfully, remains unaware.

Matt puts my Glass back on and we approach a woman named Jessica — cute, black dress, bangs. We ask her her birthday. September 13.

"You know, you share a birthday with Niall from One Direction," Matt says, thanks to my Googling.
"Who is that?" she asks.

"Also Tyler Perry," says Matt.

"Give me someone cool."

"Milton Hershey, inventor of the Hershey bar."

"Yeah, he's pretty cool."

Now we're getting somewhere. Now we're flirting. I Google her name and find something on a new-agey Web site. I type: "The name Jessica means you long for a stable and loving family relationship."
Matt refuses to say my line. Jessica drifts away.

We find another woman, this one French. I ask him to tell this woman, "You're like a parking ticket. You have 'fine' written all over you."

"My colleague in my Glass wants me to tell you you're like a parking ticket."

There's lots of noise. I can't see her reaction. Glass cuts out.

To get another perspective, Matt lets his female friend — who came with him to the bar — try Glass. She approaches a group of men. They are having none of it.

"You're okay, but your friend looks like a douchebag with them on," says the British ringleader.

I Google douchebag, hoping for a good douchebag-related retort. But what I find is both too late and too lame. "You're saying I'm a bag of vinegar and water invented in 1766?" The Brit has walked away by this time.

The single women seem more intrigued by Glass, the men more threatened.

Matt is flirting with one of the South Carolina women again. She tells him her name. I find her Internet trail and feed him information.

"So you like Mad Men?" he asks (from her Pinterest board). "What was it like being a casting assistant?" (LinkedIn.) "Tell me about the Sloppy Tuna music festival in Montauk" (a photographer's Web site).

The woman is both fascinated and freaked out. She takes out her iPhone to see where we are getting this. Her friend pulls her away to the bathroom.

After about an hour, the video cuts out. The next day, I ask Matt what happened the rest of the night.
"A woman lifted up her shirt and showed me her bra," he says.

What? I cut out and it goes from Cyrano to Joe Francis?

"She wanted to see if I could get a photo. I think I did."

Trust me, he didn't. I searched the photos from the night for a long time. Most were dark and blurry.
The night did make clear that Glass could have a profound impact on dating. Imagine when hackers start releasing facial-recognition software against Google's will: We might scan the room and figure out who is married, whose company just had an IPO, who got busted for shoplifting when they were nineteen. Imagine being able to come up with retorts worthy of Oscar Wilde because they were written by Oscar Wilde.

Cyrano verdict: date bait. But creepy. Partial success.


Will I wear Glass in real life? That depends a lot on whether everyone else wears it. I'm impressed overall, but I don't want to be one of those in America's small cadre of Glassholes. I need social acceptance.

It's hard to predict whether Glass will become a mass phenomenon. But if it doesn't, something like it will. Perhaps a gadget that looks no more noticeable than a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. Technology won't stop. We are all on a long, slow march toward becoming half-android. Will the good outweigh the bad? Who the hell knows?

Well, that's not entirely true. "Okay, Glass, Google 'Will Glass be good or bad for society?'"

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