Perhaps there is more for us to learn from these early reports of Glass-induced stupefication, as captured in an image in Nick Bilton's report on Google's recent trade show, Google I/O. While Bilton describes being creeped out at the prospect of dorks winking at their Glass to take snapshots of his junk at the urinal, the zoned out Google reps shown holding "office hours" strike me as a far more likely signal of the hypothetical future world of wearable computers.
And it's just the opposite of the promise Google has been making for the device. Here's what Google Glass industrial designer Isabelle Olsson told The Verge's Joshua Topolsky about some of her design motivations:
One day, I went to work -- I live in SF and I have to commute to Mountain View and there are these shuttles -- I went to the shuttle stop and I saw a line of not 10 people but 15 people standing in a row like this," she puts her head down and mimics someone poking at a smartphone. "I don't want to do that, you know? I don't want to be that person. That's when it dawned on me that, OK, we have to make this work. It's bold. It's crazy. But we think that we can do something cool with it."
According to its designers, Google Glass is supposed to "bring technology closer to your senses," allowing us "to more quickly get information and connect with other people." Wearable designs are meant to "get out of your way when you're not interacting with technology." But the glassed-out "wearers" (a term akin to "burners," maybe) seems to suggest the opposite result: bringing technology closer actually further distances us from the world.
The very invisibility of connection with Glass may form part of the problem. After all, Olsson's head-down smartphone pokers are clearly signaling their relationship to the physical world, even if the meaning of that signal amounts to, "I am withdrawing from it." So tempting as the "glassed-out" metaphor might be, it's the wrong one. "Wearers" are not like users, zoned out and distanced from worldly interactions through artificial chemical supplement. Rather, they are weirdly, undecidably suspended between presence and absence. The glassed-out early adopters of wearable computers signal neither; they signal nothing at all.
While some wearers might be glassholes and some might be glassed-out (and some might be both), a better characterization of this new trend must come from elsewhere. The proper analogy for such an uncanny being is not the jerk nor the junkie but the zombie: neither living nor dead, but suspended interminably between the two. Wearers are neither present nor absent, neither here nor there, neither in-person nor on-line, neither attentive nor oblivious.
An animated corpse, the zombie was once lost to eternal rest before having been reanimated by means of witchcraft. Likewise, the Google Glass wearer was once absent, lost to the digital netherworld of the smartphone, before having been remanifested by means of today's black enchantment -- technology. If zombie corpses are undead, zombie wearers are unabsent. There but here, but neither, but both.