My Evening With Google Glass

When I was a child, ads for X-ray glasses in the back of comics promised a product that could see through people’s clothes on the street, or into safes without opening them. Imagine the disappointment of all the children who paid $1 (plus 25 cents shipping), only to put the clunky, obvious eyewear on their heads and experience nothing in particular.

When Google announced its new Glass product, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a preview. The big day came and went. No Google Glass. I ended up taking matters into my own hands, contacting a man I’ll call “Geoff” who appeared to have a used pair on offer. I couldn’t be sure how many pairs were on Craigslist at this point, but it seemed worth a try. Among all the hustlers and the fakes, I had the sense that Geoff was some kind of Google insider who simply had a spare pair of legit goggles. So I dropped him a line.

I arranged the meeting with a sense of excitement mingled with dread. Who was this guy? Why was I so eager to get my hands on these things? Did I really need it? I had prejudged Glass as a kind of gimmick for douchebags, like Bluetooth headsets and Segways. I wondered about my motivation to want to review it so badly. Wasn’t it actually the case that I was just bored? Would the Glasses really change anything?

You know, the life of a writer is tough. It’s not as easy as some people think. You write things and no one publishes them. You take up other lines of work to make a living and people don’t hire you. So you spend your days doing the errands of the trade. You’ve got to wake up pretty early in order to get to the post office to mail things, far enough in advance to wake up fully, make coffee, get dressed, etc.

When I was young, I lived like an aristocrat, riding around in taxis and surrounded by comfort, and all I thought about was art and beauty. Now all I think about is money. Would the Glasses really change anything? I approached the address Geoff gave me and knocked at the door.

As I unboxed the rigid frame and angled it over the bridge of my nose, I heard Geoff say, “I suppose you’ll be wanting some kind of authentication.” The tiny screen to my right seemed to be full of snow or something. It made me twitch involuntarily. “Yes, of course. Can I get a receipt?” Geoff grunted. I looked down at the table and saw a small numbered certificate and then turned my head, only to find that Geoff had disappeared like a cloud of vapour, almost as if he was never there to begin with.

Finding myself alone, I oriented myself with the new gear. I moved my right hand in what I imagined was the right motion to drop down the settings menu. “What a moron,” I said. “That cheque will never clear.” My words echoed back at me through the empty room.

Geoff cleared his throat. He was standing exactly in my new blind spot. The tiny box on the right hand side of the Glasses frame has the unfortunate problem of blocking things from your field of view. “Here’s your receipt.” He placed it on the table. He appeared to be a man who had nothing to lose, no reason to impress anyone. I reached out for my receipt and looked around to thank him. This time he really was gone.

My first steps into the Griffintown streets were pretty exciting, as I was able to instantly Google-map everything I was looking at. The Italian place on the corner was under new ownership, yet still displayed the old ownership’s 68% rating on Urban Spoon. I should tell them. They’re doomed to fail otherwise. They probably have no idea.

Whatever sense of dread or problems with existential boredom I was having were instantly washed away by the heady feeling of looking at everything as if for the first time. Overlaying maps, looking at a building and knowing its history, squinting up into the sky and seeing the itinerary and make of a plane flying overhead, people walking down the street were instantly identifiable as “single” or “taken” or even “in a relationship (but still looking)”: I couldn’t believe it. Google Glass was everything I imagined it could be and more.

The Netflix library consists of just 11 films, which is pretty slim. Probably due to the non-geographically specific licensing arrangements for a device with which I could theoretically fall asleep in one country at a film’s beginning and wake up in another before the film’s end. But it is a surprisingly diverse mix, running the gamut from Orson Welle’s “The Trial” to Louis C.K.’s “Pootie Tang”.

I fell asleep watching “Road House” and ended up having a dream with Ben Gazzara in it, chuckling softly to himself, sitting in a sturdy leather chair, staring into a deep glass of Scotch. “Can you believe I’m in this piece of shit? I used to work with John Cassavetes! He’d kill me if he was still alive. What a stinker.” He looked up from his drink, during what was surely the lowest moment of his career. “What is that thing on your face?”

I woke to the sound of what seemed to be rain falling in my apartment. I wandered bleary eyed into the living room, and saw Geoff standing there, wearing the Google Glasses. He was urinating into an empty cardboard box. You can never just say goodbye to Craigslist people. They always come back somehow.

“Hey!” I shouted. Geoff didn’t move. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t see me. He looked around and was clearly in his own world. He appeared to be sleepwalking. I always heard you were never supposed to wake someone who was sleepwalking. It’s apparently very dangerous. I grabbed him by the shoulders and yelled. “Give my Glasses back! What are you doing here?”

Abruptly, as if in a trance, he locked his vacant eyes with mine and, as if reading my thoughts via the Glasses, he intuited my original craven motivation for wanting to review them in the first place. “Okay! Yes, we are bored. We’re all bored now. But has it ever occurred to you that the process that creates this boredom that we see in the world now may very well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing, created by a world totalitarian government based on money, and that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? And it’s not just a question of individual survival, but that somebody who’s bored is asleep, and somebody who’s asleep will not say no?”

He turned and mumbled, almost laughing, walked out the door down to the street, climbed into a smart car and drove off.

I stood in the doorway and cursed loudly. All the neighbours’ lights turned on. How dare he? Even if he was suffering from some kind of peculiar sleeping illness, he had sold me those glasses. I had a receipt! It was then I remembered that before Roadhouse began, I had hooked the glasses up to my Youtube account to upload an image of whatever I was looking at every 30 seconds. And if the Glasses’ face recognition kicked in, it would start rolling video. That’s a really great function, by the way. So I turned on my computer. Obviously, the best way to figure out where he was going was to look at the world through his eyes for a while.

The first several images through the windshield of Geoff’s car were unremarkable. Eventually, he got out and started walking around, and things became a little more interesting. I recognized a little park at the Old Port that he would have had to have jumped a fence to get into. I fell asleep again watching Geoff watching some ducks asleep by a pond in the night. It was quite beautiful.

Then he arrived at someone’s apartment. He was welcomed warmly by some distinctly unsavoury people, pretty obviously drug dealers. One of them (I wouldn’t swear by it, but the resemblance was uncanny) looked a whole lot like Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto. It made no sense that he’d be in Montreal, except that things were pretty hot for him back at home these last few days. He was absolutely, no question, smoking a crack pipe and going off about welfare cheats, the gravy train, the usual. I have to say, the image shot by Google Glass in this low-light situation was remarkably clear. I mean, crystal clear. Very sharp resolution in a really low-light, not to say dingy, setting. It was definitely him. Actually, don’t quote me on that. It seems insane. Why would he put himself in that situation? Maybe I was dreaming again. At one point, “Rob Ford” pointed at Geoff’s face and said, “That better not be on.” That’s when I fell asleep again.

As it was getting light, I woke and was surprised to see that Geoff’s feed was still on. He was on the move, driving down some street. I was shocked he wasn’t broadcasting from a jail cell yet. Wow, my Youtube account has a lot more subscribers than it did last night. He’s getting out of his car and walking down a street. It looks like he’s a block from my house. Each image refresh brings him closer to my door. There’s obviously a slight delay between the image uploading and what’s actually happening. The door is opening. I can’t believe I didn’t lock it last night after Geoff left. This is not what I signed up for when I agreed to review Google Glass. How dare this guy come back to the scene of the crime? I’m going to give him a piece of my mind.

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Marcel Duchamp photographed by Eric Sutherland at Walker Art Center, October 1965