A 33-Year-Old NPR Story Convinced Me Google Glass Will Stop Looking So Dorky Soon

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Google showed off a new version of Google Glass yesterday.

Glass now works with actual prescription glasses frames, and in general it's been redesigned to look less clunky and dorky. I think that even with the redesign, Glass looks pretty silly. In fact, up until this morning, I couldn't imagine that Glass would ever not seem too silly for mainstream users.  And then I caught this quote from a Verge interview with Google Glass’s lead designer, Isabelle Olsson.

Olsson is pretty relaxed when the weirdness of Glass comes up — it's obviously the most common question she has to face when talking about the product. "It's interesting to see the parallels with headphones," she says. "The fact that people walk around with these huge headphones is kind of crazy, in a way. But now you don't think about it as technology, you think about it as something that delivers music to you."

This comparison felt fishy to me. Were people really that skeptical of Walkmen? After all, headphones were around for a long time before Walkmen were invented. A century had passed where people had gotten used to headphones, worn them at home. All Walkmen did was to take a familiar invention and make it portable.

But then I checked, and it turns out Olsson is right. Here’s the proof: a NPR story originally broadcast in 1981, when Walkmen were still pretty new. It’s mostly a series of man-on-the-street interviews, and people express a disgust for the newfangled invention that's very, very familiar:

    “They're obnoxious.”
    “It looks stupid to me. Some people approve of it, you know. It's fine if - privacy your home, you know?”
    “Yeah, people do kind of look funny and they kind of look, like, you know, pretty smug when I'm wearing them and everything.”
    “ You know, it's nice when you're walking around to hear other people talking and see what they're doing. And you're kind of putting blinders on.”
    “ It causes people to isolate themselves from their experience, the contact with nature - sort of, a neo-existential prelude to doom.”

The line that chimed hardest for me actually came from Steve Profitt, the reporter:

PROFITT: You know, next thing they should do is have a little movies, you know, little sunglass movies so you don't have to look, either.

So, yeah. I guess a lot of inventions seem dorky, smug, and alienating. And then, a few years later, they become so normal that it’s hard to imagine life without them.