History Repeating: Google Glass Getting Same Treatment As Walkman And Cameras Once Did
from the will-glassholes-look-better-in-hindsight? dept
There’s just something about Google Glass that seems to… create a visceral emotional response among some people. For some it’s excitement at the potential, but for many others it’s pure hate, leading to things like the term “glasshole” and various reports of attacks or problems for Google Glass wearers. It’s even to the point that Kash Hill at Forbes has an article based on all the various news stories about “places not to wear your Google Glass.” Personally, I don’t have (nor want) a pair right now, but I’m excited by the potential and opportunity for wearable devices (even as it seems fashionable to hate on the concept).
A few months ago, though, the folks at On the Media’s TLDR blog posted a story comparing the launch of the Walkman to the launch of Glass that I keep thinking about. The basic idea was that with the Walkman there was a similar reaction to the idea of people walking around wearing headphones all the time. Of course, today, you basically can’t walk anywhere without seeing people with headphones on — but, as they note, in the early days, people really didn’t like it. That link takes you to an NPR story from 1981 about people reacting to the original Walkman. And the quotes could almost all be applied to much of the haters of Google Glass today:
Unidentified Man #1: They’re obnoxious.
Unidentified Man #2: It looks stupid to me. Some people approve of it, you know. It’s fine if – privacy your home, you know? A closet radio listener.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PROFITT: You know what? I love these big radios.
(Soundbite of music)
PROFITT: But there’s something weird about these little headphones, isn’t there?
Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, people do kind of look funny and they kind of look, like, you know, pretty smug when I’m wearing them and everything.
Unidentified Man #1: With a radio, it’s a power impulse, because I used to have big radio and everybody admires you with the radio. But as far as the little Walkmans is concerned, you’re keeping all the sound to yourself.
PROFITT: What, pray tell, are you listening to on your headphones?
That “smug” line is really the killer one, given that’s the biggest complaint about “glassholes.” I have no idea if Glass itself will catch on. Certainly plenty of the reviews point to significant problems with the current versions. But it seems likely that something like Glass, if not Glass itself, will eventually catch on. Even if they look dorky and make people look smug. I recently saw, for example, a Kickstarter project for some interesting looking augmented reality glasses that have many similar features to Glass. And the product video made it look really cool… until they actually showed someone wearing the damn thing, and my emotional response was the same as folks above. It just looks ridiculous.
Of course, the more you look, the more you realize that such fears aren’t a new phenomenon or a rare thing either. The Walkman/headphones example is just one of many. For example, back when Eastman Kodak released its first cameras, there was a similar freakout:
The appearance of Eastman’s cameras was so sudden and so pervasive that the reaction in some quarters was fear. A figure called the “camera fiend” began to appear at beach resorts, prowling the premises until he could catch female bathers unawares. One resort felt the trend so heavily that it posted a notice: “PEOPLE ARE FORBIDDEN TO USE THEIR KODAKS ON THE BEACH.” Other locations were no safer. For a time, Kodak cameras were banned from the Washington Monument. The “Hartford Courant” sounded the alarm as well, declaring that “the sedate citizen can’t indulge in any hilariousness without the risk of being caught in the act and having his photograph passed around among his Sunday School children.”
Even if these kinds of reactions may be perfectly normal emotional responses to new technologies, these days, I’m trying to keep in mind that recognizing the real possibility of such devices can take some time. So, the next time you’re tempted to make fun of someone for wearing Glass or something similar, think about whether you’d make fun of the same person for popping in earbuds to listen to some music or a podcast, or for carrying a camera around her neck, and remember… things change.