Culture of Narcissism Meets Google Glasses

The recent case of Google Glass wearer Cecelia Abadie being given a citation for wearing a computer-in-eyeglass device while driving is only a launch point for what will be some very interesting court battles. The citation was dismissed in a San Diego court by a judge who properly noted that the police could not prove the device was in use and therefore charge Miss Abadie with distracted driving under the code.

Abadie was cited under a code banning operation of a video or TV screen at the front of a vehicle that is moving. Blair said the code’s language is broad enough that it could also apply to Google Glass if there were evidence the device was activated while the motorist was driving. But Abadie, who wore the device around her neck during her trial, insisted afterward that the screen is above her line of vision, its functions can be activated with her voice or a wink, and it is not a distraction even when activated.

I’m not too interested in the state’s case for distracted driving because most of these laws are totalitarian, no matter how much we dislike the abject quality of driving that materializes from the dimwits of distraction. While I personally despise those moments where drivers distract themselves to the point of a total lack of spatial awareness, as my friend Amy Alkon has written, “you can’t ban our way to safety.”

For the most part, I am more intrigued by the imminent evolution of Google Glass and how this device will further redefine the human connection in a way that sacrifices conversation in exchange for cyborg companionship. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Google Glass event at MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit) when Google came to Detroit in November 2013 to promote a user demonstration of Google Glass.

The Detroit Free Press headline reads, “Google Glass Wows at MOCAD.” It was a well-organized event where folks were let into the demo area in small groups to speak with the Google Glass Guides and try out the device for as long as was desired. Afterwards, attendees were ushered over to a lounge area of the museum to indulge in free beverages and appetizers. All participants had photos taken while wearing the device, and we left with a printed copy as well as an emailed digital version of the photo.

I attended with an open mind because I wanted to be educated on the product so that I could either endorse it or condemn it as just another overt device of the culture of narcissism. The demo I experienced began with the Google Guide telling me he was “very excited” to see my reaction to this amazing new device. After thirty minutes of fussing with the Glass and trying out all of the available options, I was absolutely floored over the lack of excitement I experienced in totality. To be truthful, I went in a bit prejudiced, thinking that perhaps this was a device that was going to turn a generation of digital narcissists into unrestrained egomaniacs. On the other hand, I expected the actual product to be somewhat cool, and it wasn’t. It was completely unexciting and uneventful – sorry Google.

The options the Glass offers as an extension to the cell phone are skimpy and barely useful. What surprised me the most was the amount of eye strain the Google Glass causes after just a few minutes of use due to the fact that you have one eye looking upward into a corner to pick out a tiny screen. I can’t imagine being subjected to that kind of strain on a perpetual basis. The Google Guide told me it doesn’t cause eye strain because you shouldn’t be looking at it that long, yet the Glass functions – web, maps, photos and videos, etc. – demand that, yes, you do keep looking at it. It’s a surefire way to a quick headache.

And worse yet, you have to talk out loud to control the interface, making yourself seem like a babbling moron to those who are in your vicinity. Overall, Google Glass is uninspiring. As some folks may not know, I am no luddite. Though I adhere to many classic patterns, traditions, and embrace a whole lotta retro in my life, I am promiscuously digital in all respects. I long ago digitized my photo and music collections, and I have more than one eBook device, two Mac computers, and multiple iPad, iTouch, and iPod devices. I am continually fascinated with the next digital device that does things we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. But with Google Glass, the digital return you get as you strain your eye upward is barely passable and the functions are deficient.

I don’t know how this device offers an advantage in comparison to pulling out my Samsung S4 computer with it’s gorgeous 5″ screen that brings the world of information to my fingertips. Marketed as an extension of a cell phone, I’m just not seeing how Google Glass becomes a productive add-on to one’s cell phone at all. More likely, it seems to be an apparatus that appeals to the cyborg culture wherein the individual Glass wearer puts self-absorption just a tad closer to the brain that has now become one with a digital device while removing the Glass wearer from the realities of a human-based world where conversation, eye contact, body language, and human interaction skills matter. On her Facebook page after the citation dismissal, Miss Abadie is quoted as such: ”Yes, we can continue to be CYBORGS even when we drive!”

google glasses - Version 2

Google was kind enough to take a photo of me wearing the Glass.


My disparagement toward this robotic apparatus certainly won’t make me a luddite given my own digital love affair, but it will draw some chagrin from the connected crowd that rejects any criticism whatsoever of their electronic existence. Psychologist Sherry Turkle, who studies technology of mobile communication, calls the perpetual digital addiction the “central paradox” that changes what we do and who we are, allowing us to ”be together while not being together.” The Google Glass device takes the earthling cyborg well beyond the zone of useful technology that keeps useful information at our fingertips. It is very much a brazen statement about our existence and the lack of importance placed upon our relationships to those around us.

The Glass lurking in the corner of your eye is a constant reminder that you are always a short step away from experiencing the bliss of popularity amongst a crowd of one, thanks to the fact that you are brandishing a tool of extraordinary etiquette that will instantly irritate even the boldest supporters of digital identity.