From the devil’s workshop

From the devil’s workshop


Now that I’m semi-retired and time lies heavy on my hands, I figure I could get a pair of those high-tech spectacles called Google Glass that let you check your email and surf the Internet for the nearest Thai restaurant and see how the Dow’s doing and make an airline reservation and take a photo, or even a video, of what the Glass sees, and then share it with other Glass wearers (“Glasswegians”?) so you can walk around feeling like you have super powers and everybody else doesn’t; not super powers like being able to fly, mind you, or squeeze a lump of coal in your hands until it turns into a diamond; not X-ray vision; but super powers in that you know more stuff (or believe you do) than the people around you, and they believe it too, so even though most of them don’t know much about much, and you only pretend to know much about much, some of them – the few, the technoscenti – will recognize the Glass and know what it is and what it can do (because the Glass, I figure, is subtly styled, but not too subtly) and then they’ll figure you’re pretty special; they’ll figure you’re what used to be called cool, or with it, but I have no idea what it’s called now because I’m so otherwise.

And then I wonder: Do people wearing the Glass (Gary Shteyngart, f’rinstance, writing recently in The New Yorker about his experiences as one of the chosen, a “Glass Explorer”) recognize each other on the street? How could they not? But do they signal each other somehow, the way owners of Alfa Romeos flash their headlights when they flash by? Maybe the Glassies text each other, and nobody else is the wiser. No, they probably give out some kind of signal that alerts other Glass wearers in the area with a blinking light or something, which nobody else can see. And what about pop-ups? Pop-ups could be a real problem, could even be fatal if you’re crossing the street wearing the Glass.

Mr. Shteyngart wrote about his experiences in Manhattan with the Glass. What such an alarming level of mental, social and sensory isolation, the way I figure it, while you’re walking around in public just like a regular human, brings to mind, first, is also very New York: the deranged person talking to himself on the street or at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which was commonplace in those common places long before the cell phone arrived; behavior that, a short time before, would have classified you as a lunatic, but now nobody bats an eye; and long, long before those gizmos that clamp onto your ear (I want to say Bluetooth, but I realize that’s a trade name, and it involves Personal Area Networks, whatever they are, and the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, whatever that is; more interesting, it seems to me, is the idea that the name supposedly comes from Harald Bluetooth, a 10th-century Scandinavian king, and that the company logo is a runic version of his initials).

Where was I? Oh, and what the Glass also brings to mind is something that happened eons ago: A friend and I were hitchhiking from San Francisco to Los Angeles and we stopped at Big Sur State Park and, when night fell – on the pristine coast, far from the light pollution of the city – we were treated to a sky glimmering with more stars than I’d ever seen before. But why weren’t all the other campers out there too? They were in the main park building, watching a show about the night sky.

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