Would the for-profit Western medical establishment diagnose me with social anxiety just because I prefer to burn one before (and during, and after) attending a large party? I’m not afraid of people, but I don’t like crowds. Plus, it was the golden hour and I had parked facing the destroyer.
The decommissioned naval base where the destroyer is anchored is a bright dot in my California constellation. Some of my oldest Bay Area friends work at a renewable energy start-up in the base’s former control tower. This spring, their company was bought by Google X, Google’s top-secret “future technology arm,” which they refer to as “The Goog.”
The ragtag group of inventors, engineers, van-dwelling kite-surfers and shipping container-hoarding freegans got stock options, @google.com email addresses, and corporate credit cards. Now they were having a party at the tower to celebrate the purchase of their intellectual property and the continued funding of their valiant attempts to solve the global energy crisis.
I was pre-partying in SubyRuby, looking at the destroyer, exhaling out the cracked door and keeping a three-hundred-sixty-degree awareness of the vehicle via the mirrors. A large white bus offered protection on the driver’s side, but I detected a flutter of peripheral movement from the right, and reflexively disappeared the evidence.
A muscular man strode with purpose through the frame of my windshield. A curly earphone wound its way down the bristles of his buzz cut, disappearing into the collar of his blue polo shirt, which was embroidered, “Google.”
I had never seen anything like this at the decommissioned naval base before, but I quickly put it all together. The big white bus to my left was one of the Big White Buses—the ones that picked up the young Googlers from the neighborhoods in San Francisco they were aggressively gentrifying and took them to their Googleplex each day to incrementally vest Google stock and create our entire reality.
Google, such a constant but disembodied presence in my life, had just come alive before my eyes. I always knew it was everywhere, but now it was here. The Big White Bus had come to the tower, and with it, the human manifestations of a corporation of inhuman omniscience.
Where there’s one curly earphone there’s many, I know that much. Uniformed law enforcement never crosses the windshield or the parking lot alone. Your uniform is only a uniform if someone else nearby is wearing it. Otherwise, it’s just a polo shirt.
What is it about uniformed law enforcement that makes me so angry? I pondered this as I applied mascara. Maybe it is my history of negative encounters with local, municipal, state and federal law enforcement agents, encounters that I am acutely aware have only ended as comparatively well as they have because I am a white female. Maybe it is the fact that these uniformed law enforcement officials have surrendered their own free will to blindly enforce laws that they did not make up while sometimes brandishing or even firing weapons, often at the wrong people, sometimes with fatal results. Also and less gravely, these uniformed law enforcement officials confiscate people’s harmless—in fact, helpful—herbal medicines while saying things like, “I don’t make the laws, I just enforce them.”
Everyone says they are just doing their jobs, but their job is often to be at best a party-killer and at worst, a hired killer. Maybe, by smoking this herb or camping in these woods, I am just doing my job. In fact, I am doing my job without benefit of pay. Did you ever think of that, law enforcement official hassling me about smoking this herb or camping in these woods?
You know who else were just doing their jobs? The Nazis. I’m just sayin’. I know, you’re thinking, “Whoa there, Weinstein. Big leap.” But I am not saying that all uniformed law enforcement officials are Nazis. I am just saying that when you wear uniforms and take orders, best case scenario, you are taking those orders from douchebags. Worst case scenario, you are taking those orders from evil.
But Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil,” so this was all probably okay. Also, these polo shirt guys didn’t seem to be armed. Thought what did I know? Google, or Google X, could have developed invisible cyberguns by now, for all I knew.
I was prepared to make a festive entrance to the party, having added to my own uniform of jeans and adventure sandals a gold t-shirt and even a necklace, but as I exited the car, a cold bay breeze came off the water, and so as is often the case after dark in Northern California, I quickly concealed my party top within a voluminous black puffy. No matter. In a party full of engineers, I knew there would not be even a hint of sexual possibility. The skillset required to invent things in a corporate environment comes with the side effect of complete immunity to my charms.
Sure enough, there was another curly earphone/blue polo shirt at the door. Security in business casual, I fumed. Security in chinos. “Just try me, Polo Shirt,” I telepathically threatened the door guy.
This was headed in a bad direction. A beverage would calm me down. I had it in mind and muscle memory to climb the many stairs to the tower itself, where in pre-Google times, parties here had always boasted a reliable stash of high quality liquor from the artisanal distillery a few hangars down the runway. But right by the entrance there were a couple of kegs and a few nearly empty bottles of unchilled white wine from the low quality winery in the hangar next door. This did not bode well. Still, I held out hope that the good stuff was upstairs, but in this brave new world in which polo-shirted security was posted in every doorway, how could I know this?
And then, I saw it. The future. The glasses. The Google glasses. The Google Glass. The iPhone in your eyeball.
Everywhere you looked, you could see at least one. It was a thin, rigid headband, but worn forwards instead of on top of your head, like Geordi La Forge’s vision device on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was kind of a non-object, a frame for empty space. It consisted of the top rail of a pair of glasses, but without lenses. It just had nosepieces, and a small, boxy protuberance along the right side. At the very front of this protuberance was a tiny lens, belonging to the camera pointing at everyone and everything, all the time.
Every time I met eyes with someone wearing this non-object, I felt paranoid and exposed, and not only because I was stoned at a large party. I’ve been stoned at plenty of large parties, but this was the first large party at which people were wearing glasses with which they could photograph me just by looking at me and tapping the sides of their heads. And yet at the same time, I felt strangely unseen, because though the wearer of these glass-less glasses might appear to be looking right at me, they might also be looking at their email, or a live-stream from someone else’s Google Glass of a different party, somewhere else.
I know there are cameras everywhere, and the iPhone and the Facebook and the Instagram and the unerasable traceable digital evidence of our rapidly disappearing actual analog selves et cetera, but there is something different about this device. Primarily, it’s the fact that it’s headgear. The iPhone, as addictive and absurd and once-futuristic as it is, is still an object separate from us. It lives in our pockets, gently microwaving our gonads but otherwise dormant until we deliberately choose to interact with it. We take it out. We hold it up. We put it down. We put it away. The Google Glass is on your head. It’s on your face. It never goes away.
Muttering paranoidly to anyone who would listen, I was eventually informed that the glasses were only on if a small rectangle of light was visible on the wearer’s cheekbone. “It’s mostly a fashion accessory,” it was explained to me. “It’s not on all the time.”
With this reassurance, I was able to begin mingling. I had the same conversation several times.
“What do you do?”
“I work at Google. What do you do?”
“I do kids’ homework for money, write for free, and climb rocks for fun.”
“I used to do that. But I haven’t in a long time.”
“I work at Google.”
I quickly got bored with this conversation, and convinced someone to let me look in their Google Glass.
“Do you work for Google?” he asked.
“Then ignore all of the emails you are about to see.”
He put the thing on my head.
“Look up,” he instructed.
I looked up, but nothing happened.
“I think it can tell that you’re not me, because you have a lot of hair,” he said.
I pulled my hair away from the thing and looked up.
And there, before my eyes, in a teeny tiny screen in space that only I could see, I saw.
“Google Glass.,” it said. And on the bottom, smaller, it said “okay glass.”
“Say, ‘Okay, glass.’”
I said, “Okay, glass,” but nothing happened.
“Female voice in a crowd. Not super-sensitive.”
“OKAY GLASS,” I boomed in a lower register, and it came to life.
I focused my eyes in a plane I’d never had the opportunity to focus on before. I am so nearsighted that without correction, I can only see clearly about an inch in front of my face. The tiny hologram of the Google Glass projection is just about the distance my naked eye can see. I can have laser surgery, or I can get a Google Glass and watch my own live-stream.
I now realized, with a sinking heart, that throughout the whole party, I had had many urges to check my iPhone, to interact with my iPhone and the world it brought to my fingertips, to be with my own technology at the expense of human interaction, to disconnect from where I was and connect with where I could be, or had been, or might be, but wasn’t. And that this new device I was now wearing would allow me to do what at some level I wanted to do, which was be in it and on it all the time. And I knew, one day, I would own this thing, or something like it. We all would.
There was a reason for the polo-shirted security force. These guys were protecting the ideas of the future, the flying machines that would make the power, and the computers we would wear on our heads until they finally drilled them into our brains.
The party was thinning out. The Googlers were moving, as if by instinct, to their Big White Bus. My real friends at this party, the engineers with whom I have enjoyed beers in the tower and winter weekends in Tahoe, found one another and shared a partly-eaten abandoned sandwich. The Big White Bus of Googlers had destroyed all the party snacks.
A departing Googler came up to one of the renewable energy engineers.
“Hey, when are you guys gonna be finished with your invention? Does it work yet?”
“Don’t question their methods,” I interjected.
After all the free alcohol I had consumed in the tower and all the times I had left my car or climbing buddy’s van on their property for safekeeping while traveling, the least I could do would be to defend them from doubt that their flying machine would fly.
“Thanks, Emily,” smiled one of the engineers.
“Just doing my job,” I said, to see what it felt like to say that.