White Men Wearing Google Glass is a Tumblr that perfectly encapsulates Google Glass, that doomed-at-early-adoption device about which we learned so much this week, by way of a bunch of huge dorks trying out the face computer of the future, and telling us all about it in selfies, in winks, and in the shower. But it's not the multiple white males looking like idiots that will make Google's pet project such a tough sell to the masses; it's the design of Google Glass itself — in form, and the function inspired by something that, well, makes everyone who puts on a pair look weird. Consider the other first-round of begoggled Googlers: non-white, non-dude, non-dorks, none of whom look any cooler than the stream of white nerds on that there Tumblr:
Okay, at least one of these people is a big white male nerdface, but even celebrities — people who can pull off all of those fashion experiments we civilians can't — end up looking, in Google Glass, like they were cast in some dystopian romantic comedy of the future:
To be sure, part of the aesthetic turn-off is the familiarity of Google Glass's bionic eye design. That straight-across bar doesn't look like a pair of designer eyeglasses mirroring the curve of your eye sockets; it is a harsh aluminum bar straight across the eyebrows. This would-be innovation is more robot than human, more Star Trek than star-studded, and therein lies the problem:
Of course, there's more to Google Glass being over before it begins than looking weird. This is not just the aesthetics of the Bluetooth headset, or the Segway, or the pocket protector, as Wired's Marcus Wohlsen suggested this week. Sergey Brin's bad form is reflected in the function of his creation, too. Google Glass, because of the way it's constructed, has led to the rise of the Glasshole, a term now used to describe someone not so much for getting their face on a headset as the way it makes an early adopter act.
Bluetooth headsets had a similar problem, and not just because they looked ugly. The ear bugs looked "dorky," of course, but they also facilitated off-putting social behavior. People walking down the street muttering to themselves. "My least favorite people in the world are the people with the little bluetooth headset who have loud conversations in public places," wrote one of our commenters. "Yes sir, you are super important and the entire world is your office." Bluetooth gave the self-important office worker permission to have loud, annoying conversations in public. Sure, hands-free conversations are important to a lot of busy people, and a safe way to talk and drive. But, at some point between early adoption and over-before-it's-cool promulgation, those little blue ear pieces became a damning signal of an inconsiderate, work-obsessed person whom nobody wants to be around. The rise of the Glassholes is similar.
Some argue that Google's technological capabilities can overcome the inherent dorky look, and the behavior it inspires. But in today's consumer tech world, success hinges on design. Just look at the iPhone, which succeeded because of both software and hardware design elements. When Apple released its long awaited phone in 2007, a Computer World reviewer wrote this of the design:
While none of these features is by itself revolutionary, what is revolutionary is the interface that links them all together. Apple has long been seen as leader when it comes to making difficult computing tasks easy to do. Never is that user interface design more obvious than in the multitouch functions that make the iPhone, well, the iPhone
But the iPhone also succeeded because Apple's hardware used the highest quality materials and had a simple, fashionable look that people didn't mind toting around. It was curved. It was cool. It was simple.
Not all popular products have to look gorgeous — especially if they're useful enough. But something that we wear on our faces is such a blatant statement about our identity that the aesthetics matter. Some have compared Google Glass to the Segway, which didn't just attract dorks so much as it made normal people look "smug," as the venture capitalist Paul Graham explained:
Someone riding a motorcycle isn't working any harder. But because he's sitting astride it, he seems to be making an effort. When you're riding a Segway you're just standing there. And someone who's being whisked along while seeming to do no work—someone in a sedan chair, for example—can't help but look smug.
That smugness mattered so much because people generally buy cars or motorcycles to reflect a certain aspect of their being, usually having to do with manliness. The Segway didn't exactly exude man power. The same goes for eyewear and Google. Because they are on our faces, they reflect our aspirational personalities. (Remember how big of a deal it was when White House Press Secretary Jay Carney donned "hipster" glasses? Notice how big a deal NBA commentators still make about the injured guys on the bench in theirs?) Brin, the Google co-founder and ultimate Glass evangelist, might have seen this coming when he emphasized the "manliness" of his favorite revolutionary hardware. Calling something manly, however, does not make it so.