New Orleans is a city of krewes with secret memberships, politicians with cash-filled freezers and lots of other things that people prefer to keep hidden. There are romantic liaisons, teenagers doing what teenagers do and all sorts of people — from drug dealers to prostitutes — doing things they don't want others to see. Into this arena of secrets enters a small face-mounted computer that can take photographs and shoot video — among many other interesting things.
The headset is called Google Glass, and you might have seen it in the news: a wearable computer ithat's the next technological jump after the smartphone. The device is worn like a pair of spectacles — it looks something like the eyepiece worn by Geordi LaForge, the blind character played by LeVar Burton in Star Trek: The Next Generation — and operates using a combination of voice commands and a trackpad placed at the user's right temple.
Integration with Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Path make Glass a very social device, as does the ability to start video Google Hangouts (teleconferences) with up to 10 people at once. It's a serious tool for creating point-of-view media, and it's also raising a lot of privacy concerns for that reason.
But when you see someone wearing Google Glass, you don't automatically know if it's turned on — taking photos, sound recording or video recording. Businesses probably won't be happy with a device that lets customers look at an item and perform instant price comparisons. Recording live music performances or movies is a logical possibility. What about reading lips from a distance? From music clubs and casinos to Bourbon Street gentlemen's clubs, there are a lot of places the new tech may not be welcome.
Where can you go with Glass and where can it get you kicked out? I decided to find out.
The woman on the phone at Harrah's New Orleans, an operator who identified herself only as Joyce, seemed taken aback and had to look up Google Glass on the Internet before delivering a very firm "no." House of Blues New Orleans, on the other hand, knew exactly what Glass was. A representative who gave his name as Doug explained that House of Blues has strict "no cameras" policy, but allow phones into the club with no problem — and that it would almost certainly be a judgment call by the manager on duty, since there is no official policy on Glass yet. Robert Watters, president of Rick's Cabaret, a Bourbon Street gentlemen's club, was in a New Orleans City Council meeting, but texted a statement, "We will not be allowing people to wear them inside the building."
At Flanagan's Pub in the French Quarter, bartender, "Huggy" Behr immediately displayed a wealth of knowledge about Glass and how it operates. "So I guess this isn't one of those places I'll get tossed out of for wearing Glass?" I joked.
"Throw you out? I'd love one of my own," someone else said.
When Behr tried them on, I could see his gadget lust immediately. "Can you imagine shooting an entire shift in a French Quarter bar, point-of-view, like this?" Behr chuckled then got more serious. "The constant connection to the Web has changed us as a society as it is," he said. "Glass is going to continue that dependence on being connected and overinformed. I am all for it. I submit. Give me more. Take away my need to learn how to spell. I suck at it already. Just give me access to all the data. I want it.
"While you are at it," he added, "give me my damn flying cars."
Of course, the technology behind a computer on your face is about more than just where you can wear it. I let a few people from the New Orleans tech scene play with Glass to see their responses.
Mindy Airhart, owner of the consulting and construction company Greenhart Group and a popular Twitter user known as @mindymoo, was enthusiastic. Airhart also was optimistic about its reception by locals.
"I think we will be a little more open-minded [than other cities] when we see someone with a Glass device on their face — at least I hope we will," she said.
Airhart's main observation (besides being in love with the interface) was that the brightly-colored, plasticky Google Glass unit needs to be made fashionable. (A recent 12-page Vogue spread, featuring models wearing Glass, attempted to do just that — and observers expect Google eventually to pair with eyeglass companies to create Glass devices that don't look much different than a regular pair of stylish glasses.)
Clint Durrett, the digital media manager at WDSU-TV, got it immediately and thought about its potential for on-the-spot newsgathering — in particular, the station's Mardi Gras app. "I would love to get Parade Tracker on these!" Durrett said.
Dwayne Breashears, production manager of WWOZ-FM, put on Google Glass, and we wandered around Audubon Park while he played with the interface. Breashears was excited about the possibilities for people with disabilities. "The potential for on-the-fly closed-captioning for the deaf or other advancements are the most amazing part of the equation," he said.
Veronica Russell is an actor who appears frequently on New Orleans stages. She wasn't concerned about audience members using Glass. "If it casts less light than the people recording with the cellphones, it will actually be less of a disruption," Russell said. "If someone wants to record something and post it to YouTube, they are going to do it."
There's still time to think about these things. Google Glass goes on sale sometime next year, according to Google, and rumors place the cost somewhere in the $300 range — about as much as a decent smartphone. And when that happens, the futuristic image of a street full of pedestrians wearing computers on their heads suddenly will be as real as a street full of people talking on their phones. Glass is coming — will you be ready for it?