Russian-American novelist, satirist and dachshund owner Gary Shteyngart delved deep into a not-too-distant-future dystopia in his last novel, 2010's Super Sad True Love Story, so perhaps it's only fitting that he was selected to join the first batch of Google's Glass Explorers program.
Shteyngart's winning tweet fantasized about using Glass to "dream up of new ideas for the TV adaptation" of the novel; what the Google intern who selected him probably didn't know is that early drafts of the novel, which was written between 2006 and 2008, included a technology dubbed The Eye, "which was basically an äppärät inside a contact lens." Hmm. The Eye was eventually nixed by Shteyngart's editor, who argued that it was a little much, which—well, you see where this is going in 2013.
All this is by way of Shteyngart's latest for The New Yorker, "Confessions of a Google Glass Explorer," in which the author deadpans a week or so viewed through the lens of Google's wearable mini-miracle—and Shteyngart's razor-sharp wit—that is as familiar as it is surreal.
Where reality ends and Shteyngart's tech-addled inner-fantasy begins we cannot know, but Shteyngart can, because he is the holder of the Glass, which transforms, with a second's command, into a sort of human livestream attached to one's face, recording and broadcasting all that one sees and hears. Here he is traversing through Union Square, a slave to the documentarian instinct that Glass nurtures:
By Union Square, a homeless veteran in an “i ♥ ny” T-shirt is writing a fresh plea on a piece of cardboard. “O.K., Glass,” I say. There’s a moment of indecision. What am I doing here, exactly? But then I succumb to the fear of not capturing the right pixels, of not documenting something that might someday prove useful. “Take a picture.”
The technology marks him—he is one of Them, he has committed himself, in body, to 2013's budding virtual world—and, in public, it arouses some combination of fascination and wonder:
Everyone at the bar at Roberta’s restaurant wants a piece of me. “Ah, future!” a German man cries. “We saw you have the Google,” a girl from a group of visiting Atlantans drawls. “Can we try it awn?” And then, without warning, I’m talking to young people. We’re all squealing, full of childish zeal. We are rubbing up to the future, hearing the first gramophone playing scratchily in the distance. Doug knows a movie producer who recently got Glass and said, “This is as close as I’ll ever get to being a rock star.” When the velvet-rope hostess at the of-the-moment Wythe Hotel bar in Williamsburg stops to take a photo of me with her iPhone, I know exactly what the producer meant. This is the most I will ever be loved by strangers.
And, in the essay's most poetic bit of dialogue, here he is sharing a moment with a Park Avenue doorman (the author is rendered in third person):
“I see that on TV!” A Park Avenue doorman runs after the man. “What it do?”
“I’m taking a picture of you,” the man says.
“And now I’m recording a video of you.”
The narrative ends, as Shteyngart's work tends to, at the intersection of two spheres, literary and tech, past and future, but I won't spoil any more. Unless you're among the few who've tried it out, you can't help but think that Shteyngart's tale is even better than the real thing.