Things sure have gotten tense in the Bay Area over the past couple of years. Rents are skyrocketing. Whole neighborhoods are changing. And the tech community is coming under attack for the role it's played in the transformation. In what writer Susie Cagle has called a "tech culture/class war," private buses that carry tech workers from San Francisco and Oakland to companies like Google in Silicon Valley have been repeatedly targeted by protesters.
Over the weekend in San Francisco, a tech writer named Sarah Slocum reported that she was the victim of another kind of anti-tech attack, when her Google Glass was taken right off her face as she hung out at a Haight Street bar called Molotov's.
"I got verbally and physically asaulted [sic] and robbed last night in the city, had things thrown at me because of some wanker Google Glass haters, then some *bleeeeeeeeeep* tore them off my face and ran out with them then and when I ran out after him his *bleeeeeeep* friends stole my purse, cellphone walet [sic] and everything," Slocum wrote on her Facebook page. She also wrote that she got back the Glass and filed a police report about the incident. (Slocum did not respond to a Twitter message asking for comment.)
According to Slocum's posts, the trouble began when two young women started criticizing her for wearing Glass, which is still an invitation-only prototype device. "I have video of one of the girls saying that 'we are destroying the city'," she wrote. "Right before this happened I was showing one of the normal, excited and curious individuals there how it works, letting them try it on and demonstrating it for them. This is the experience 95% of the time. These other people were just bitter, ugly, nasty, angry, jealous, confused and threatened people and this was apparently their hive."
Patrons of the bar told a reporter from local news station KPIX 5 that the problems started because people in the bar didn't want her recording them, and then things got chaotic.
"The crowd was jeering as any last call crowd would do with a fight outside of a bar," said one young man who was there. "She was running around very excited … and people were telling her, 'you're being an [expletive], take those glasses off.' I think everybody was just upset that she would be recording outside of a bar this late with obvious embarrassing behavior going on. And just rather insulted that someone thinks it's okay to record them the entire time they're in public."
Privacy concerns often come up in discussions of the Glass technology, and even Google has had to acknowledge that users of its much-vaunted wearable computer are sometimes called "Glassholes" for their insensitivity to the way the devices make other people feel. In a list of advice Google published earlier this month for Glass-wearers, which it prefers to call "Explorers," the company said you should ask for permission before taking photos or videos of other people. It also told users there are some things you just shouldn’t do:
[Don’t] be creepy or rude (aka, a "Glasshole"). Respect others and if they have questions about Glass don't get snappy. Be polite and explain what Glass does and remember, a quick demo can go a long way. In places where cell phone cameras aren't allowed, the same rules will apply to Glass. If you're asked to turn your phone off, turn Glass off as well. Breaking the rules or being rude will not get businesses excited about Glass and will ruin it for other Explorers.
Many of Slocum's Facebook friends jumped to her defense, but they, too, had some words of caution. One had this to say:
[Y]eah hippie anti-tech in the Haight but honestly you need to be careful where you wear this device. With the economically diverse neighborhoods, you need to use common sense. Now that people know how much people paid for Google Glass, it's a little bit like walking around with a face made of money like in the Geico commercials. I'm very careful where I wear mine, and plus we have a renters insurance policy that covers it. I have outright been called a Glasshole by strangers. This is like the iPhone thefts except Glass is more like a Rolex, and you don't go showing it off in low rent neighborhoods. That would be the lesson.
Maybe another lesson is that a bar called Molotov's (you know, as in the gasoline cocktail used in street protests) might be less than friendly territory to someone deploying a gadget that is – rightly or wrongly – perceived as the acme of the tech industry's efforts to subsume and commodify every part of our everyday experience. That obviously doesn’t excuse assault or common theft. But it's a problem that Glass users, and Google itself, are clearly going to have to reckon with.
"The crowd at Molotov’s is not a tech-oriented crowd for the most part," another one of the bar’s patrons told KPIX, emphasizing that he did not condone what happened to Slocum."It's probably one of the most punk-rock bars in the city. So it's not really Google Glass country. A level of tact would have behooved her."
Top image courtesy of Tedeytan/Wikimedia Commons.