What Happens When You Walk Into a Bar Wearing Google Glasses

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In which a new technology trial is proposed: The Shotwell's Test.

shotwells_615.jpg

This is how regular patrons act at Shotwell's (flickr/melinnis).

Two people wearing Google Glasses walk into a bar.

...

Nope, that's the whole joke.

Don't get me wrong: I'm as excited about Glasses as the next nerd, but I'm not so sure the rest of the world is going to love their arrival.

Case-in-point: yesterday, I saw that Tom Madonna the co-owner of my favorite bar, Shotwell's, had posted this to Facebook:

Last night around 9:45 two people walked into the bar. Looked me square in the eye, and acting as if everything was normal they ordered beers.. Oh did I mention they were wearing Google Glasses! In public! In A BAR!

To Madonna, the presence of these technical artifacts at Shotwell's was absurd. Like, patently, ridiculously, absurdly absurd. And I think that matters. 

Shotwell's is a fascinating test case for how tech-savvy regular people might take to Google's new toy. Let me tell you a little more about it. Shotwell's is located at 20th and Shotwell, right in the heart of San Francisco's Mission District, which also happens to be where a lot of the young tech people in the city live. (It's where a lot of the infamous SF-Silicon Valley buses run for a reason.) But Shotwell's is also a bar-bar. It's not some Las Vegas version of a bar with iPads embedded in the tables. You pay cash. They have beer. People get too drunk sometimes. There's a pool table. Salty snacks abound. Lots of different types of people come through: tech zillionaires, journalists, people who have read every William Gibson novel, service industry hipsters, regular old drunks, first-generation web people, writers, Giants fans, people who like Quiz nights, etc. 

It is, as Mother Jones Clara Jeffery put it one night, "the platonic ideal of the bar." And it so is. It so, so, so is. If we were playing one of those mindgames where you said, "Don't think of your favorite bar," I would think of Shotwell's. And if you said, "Don't think of an elephant," I would still think of Shotwell's. 

And so, this is a place, right near the beating heart of the tech world, where you might think that Google Glasses would go over well. Perhaps people would come up to you and say, "My, those are excellent Google Glasses. May I buy you a refreshing Belgian ale?" 

But, no. 

I called up Madonna to get a little more information about what happened when the Glasses couple walked into Shotwell's. 

"When you buy a new phone, it's in your pocket, but this, you're wearing something on your face. Anyone that cares what they look like is not gonna wear Google glasses. That's my opinion," Madonna said. "If you are super nerdy and you like to show off that you're in tech and smart and all those things, I can see you probably wearing Google Glasses, but you are probably in a bubble or ... new. We've all heard all this stuff. Like, this guy moved to SF and he comes to the bar. He's from Scottsdale and he's using all these [tech] words. I had to stop him. I said, 'You sound interesting and different in Phoenix, but you sound boring here. You are cliche.'"

And Madonna was still shocked by the Google Glasses despite the fact that he recognizes how pervasive technology is in San Francisco culture, even relative to New York. 

"In Brooklyn, you don't see people put their phones on the tables. They have it in their pockets. That is the culture of San Franaciso. It's so pervasive, it just dones't seem weird. It seems *normal* to them to walk into a bar with Google Glasses, even though everyone's smirking at them," Madonna continued. 

Everyone? "Ok, maybe a couple people were jealous," he admitted. 

I asked him if he had any actual exchanges with the couple. Of course, he said, "That's why I love being a bartender."After they ordered their beers, I made a disparaging remark. I asked her, if you could see the future, and she said, 'It's not on right now.' She was just poker face. I was here making fun of her and she was like, 'It's not on right now.'"

Then, he dragged her down the bar to the regulars corner. "The two regulars who work in technology were like, I'm outta here. She ended up talking with the person in from out of town," Madonna said.

He remained stunned by her attitude. "She was very matter of fact. Like, this is her reality," he concluded. "'Oh, this old thing? It's not on.'"

But, in the end, that was not the weirdest technology-in-the-bar story he had. That crown goes to a trio of people exploiting the latest in some telepresence tech (maybe Kubi?):

"These three people came in. They sat at the end of the bar where it makes an L-shape. They have this white device, a foot high, white plastic, sleek. It's basically a tripod. What you do is connect your iPad to it. Then these three people all have a beer as they FaceTime with this guy through the iPad, who is also sitting with a beer. And the iPad moves to which face he wants to talk to. It was sorta like he's the fourth person in their party," Madonna said. "That was the most nerdy thing I've ever seen at Shotwell's and they were sitting there like it was TOTALLY OK."

"To think of sitting behind a computer coding all day and when you finally get off the hour bus from SIlicon Valley and get to your local bar to talk about something else, you bring out your iPad and have a conversation with your high school buddy who lives in Cleveland. That to me, is so weird," he said. "I used to work downtown for Morgan Stanley. And on the weekends, I didn't even want to look at a computer or a phone or go downtown."

So, I propose a new trial for our augmented technologies: The Shotwell's Test. If it can't pass muster with Madonna and the crowd at the platonic ideal of the bar, it may not be ready for use outside of CES and the office park. 

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Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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