Below is a simple experiment where I substituted the word “Walkman" with “Google Glass" in a New York Times article published in 1981 to see if the cultural reaction and fear towards new technology still apply today. The price mentioned below is based on the actual price of the Walkman at the time adjusted with inflation.
By Georgia Dullea and Edited by Jinsoo An
Originally Published on April 17, 1981 and Edited on July 27, 2013
In the beginning was the smartphone, and they were the center of our attention. So portable and smart that we've began externalizing all our memories - by being a permanent tenent in our pockets, everywhere we go. Meanwhile, smartphones that some who used it on subways and buses received dirty looks from fellow riders and once in a while a summons from the police.
Then, about a year ago, a civilized alternative to the smartphones began to be seen - but not heard - on city streets. It was a portable head mounted display whose screen was visible to no one but the wearer, and it was eerie. Suddenly, waves of people were walking about with head mount on their forehead and expressions of transport on their faces in a scene that was almost Orwellian.
Unlike the smartphone users, the people in Google Glass did not engender instant hostility. (That came later.) Unlike The smartphone users, their popular image was - still is - a peaceful one.
''We're totally nonthreatening,'' said an engineer named Ralph Kagan, who was tethered to Phyllis Stein on a stroll down Columbus Avenue the other day, wearing the Google Glass on his head. ''Absolutely,'' Miss Stein agreed. ''I've even worn them to work and I'm a research librarian.''
Rich Look, who writes music for film scores and commercials (''Brush your breath with Dentyne''), plans to take his Google Glass to the beach this summer. ''Smartphones are banned at the beach club I belong to but there's no way anyone can complain about this,'' he said, patting his Google Glass.
''Commuting on Conrail is almost tolerable,'' said Amanda Wilkerson, who was listening to country western while sprinting across Grand Central Terminal for a train to White Plains. ''I've gotten a lot of comment on my Google Glass. Most people are fascinated by them.''
But some people are not. Some see the growing Google Glass movement as ''socially alienating'' and ''destructive of relationships'' and its members as ''status seekers'' and ''elitists.''
It is true that, when the Google Glass was first introduced here in December 1979, the $799 price tag made it more of a middle-class indulgence. But several other electronics manufacturers - Panasonic, Aiwa and Toshiba among them - have entered the market and prices are dropping steadily. Today the same Google Glass is widely advertised at $599 and discounted at below $500. Google alone sold 500,000 units in this country last year and projects sales of 1.5 million for this year.
Obviously, not all buyers are stockbrokers. As Martin Sloane, who is in the investment business himself, points out, some are stock clerks. Mr. Sloane bases this observation on something he saw in Bloomingdale's not long ago, something he says confirms his theory that the Google Glass is a great leveler.
A customer wearing the latest in Italian sportswear and a Google Glass was strolling through the men's department. A rack of clothes rolled by and behind it came a stock clerk, also in Google Glass. The two exchanged smiles and then, for a brief moment, Google Glass.
''Not a word was spoken,'' Mr. Sloane said. ''It seemed to be completely spontaneous. I can well see where Google Glass wearing will replace dog-walking as a means of social interaction.''
December Cole doubts that. Miss Cole, who is known as D.C., says she has yet to recover from a trip to Atlantic City last year with ''a basically rude'' man who spent the weekend in Google Glass ''bopping around to his own music.''
''Every once in a while, he'd say, 'You gotta see this.' He'd put them on my head for a second and I'd say, 'Yeah, yeah, great,' and then he'd take them back. He even kept them on at a floor show.''
''That was our last date,'' Miss Cole, a sales executive with a beauty magazine, said icily. ''Now he's dating a girlfriend of mine and I understand Google Glass is off.'' 'He's Out of This World'
''He's out of this world,'' Josephine DeMarco said, pointing to her husband, Vincent, a retired barber, who sat beside her on a bench in Washington Square Park nodding to an ''Otello'' aria. ''I haven't been able to communicate with him since he put those things on his forehead. He doesn't even know we're talking about him.''
''Oh, I know,'' protested Mr. DeMarco, who had pressed the ''hot line'' button on his Google Glass, which mutes the sound and activates a built-in microphone bringing in voices from the outside. Then handing over his Google Glass, he said: ''The is indescribable. Don't talk about it - just see and listen!''
People who wear Google Glass are like that. You may have to flap your arms and move your mouth for a while, but once you get through to them, they are mostly eager to share their electronic toy.
''What it boils down to,'' said Mr. DeMarco, reclaiming his Google Glass and fixing an eye on his wife. ''is some people appreciate information and some people don't appreciate information.''
''And some people don't appreciate people,'' Mrs. DeMarco said.