“I love your glasses— you look so modern!” declared the Spanish woman in her mid-30s as she admired Glass and stroked my hair trying to get a better look at the “lens.”
“Really? In the United States, many people say that I look weird and not in a good way” I responded, initially taken aback by her admiration.
“No way! You look like you’re from the future and your glasses are VERY cool.”*
Rewind 24 hours as I took my seat on the plane from Zurich to Madrid. My mind was racing and heart thumping for I had promised myself that once I landed in Madrid, the game was on – I’d wear Glass every step except if sensing some danger. This silent plane ride would be my last innocuous moment before parading the future in public. Or so I thought…
A man in his late 30s sat down in the seat next to me whilst sending a message via Whatsapp on his iPhone 3GS. Ever the techie, I could not resist smiling and, in Spanish, jokingly told him how I used a 3GS for a few weeks this summer and couldn’t believe how slow it was! He laughed, introduced himself as Enrique and said he’s “too old” to keep up with all this technology and asked me what phone I had. I took out Glass…
“Qué Guay! (Translation: How cool!) Those are glasses made by Google, right?
“Yes, they are Google Glass.”
“Wow! I’ve only seen those glasses on TV. How cool! What do they do? Will you show me?”
And in this very moment I knew, my journey had begun. As luck would have it, the previous week, the Prince of Asturias was in Silicon Valley trying Glass but I think I might have been the first plebeian to walk the streets sporting Glass in Spain!
My first night in Madrid, I stayed with family friends whose teenage children (Iker, 14 and Andrea, 16), knew I’d be bringing Glass and were hyped to try it. I gave them a brief demo and then handed Glass to Iker. His eyes sparkled as the charcoal ends glided past his ears and the titanium settled onto his nose. “OK Glass, Take a Picture!” A second later, a photo appeared in the corner of his eye, but it was his smile that lit up the entire room. “Wow, it’s the future!”
The next day, I wore Glass, on the train and subway, as I walked through the streets of Madrid and then to buy a ticket to enter into El Museo de La Reina Sofia—Madrid’s museum of modern art. To my surprise, not a single person approached me; a few people did stare at me but no one came up to me the way that they did in New York. If I asked someone a question, people looked at Glass oddly but never said anything.
Confused and a bit disgruntled, I met up with Enrique, to walk through Puerta del Sol, when he whispered that everyone was looking at me. I still didn’t see; my lens was not yet fully adjusted to Spanish culture; he told me to walk more slowly and listen more closely. Our pace turned into a leisurely stroll and slowly but surely, I began to notice people turn their heads, whisper to whomever they were walking with, “Viste las gafas?” or “Mira! Son las gafas de Google!” (Translation: did you see those glasses? or Look! Those are the glasses made by Google). “Gafas”, in Spanish means “glasses” not Glass, as the direct translation for “glass” in Spanish is “vidrio.” That’s when I knew I had been looking through Glass but not yet seeing Spaniards’ perspective: I’d been listening for the wrong words as the Spaniards called them “Las Gafas de Google” not “Google Glass.”
To access the local world you need the right words—and lens. Thanks to Enrique I learned that it is not culturally appropriate in Madrid to approach someone in the street. Rather, you ask questions only during a conversation. He said that upon noting someone staring at my Glass in the street or inside of a store/restaurant/bar, I should merely point to Glass and ask “Conoce?” (Translation: Do you know?). This trick worked. It helped me invite people to try what they knew was the future but get past their apprehensions. “Is it for sale?” “What can it do? What else can it do?” “Qué Guay!” “Tan de estilo!” Glass immediately raised the bar for being cool, stylish. Back home in New York I recalled the opposite, as people jokingly called Glass Explorers, “Glass-holes.”
I’ve learned that Glass can and seems to actually cut a modern appeal within a society known to look more to the past than the future. On the technical front, when I’ve done demos using the MyGlass App on my Nexus to show curious onlookers what the user was seeing, they witnessed how Glass had a hard time understanding many of their accents. “OK Glass, Take a Picture!” often didn’t work and so I taught them to say commands more harshly. “OK Glass, Translate” is really popular. Even if the translation is not completely accurate, people are astonished. “Qué Guay!”
So what do people in Madrid wish from Glass? After each demo, I’d get permission to record their Glass-inspired desires. Younger Spainards like Iker want apps like Whatsapp, Snapchat and YouTube. The more senior Glass testers dream of ways Glass can help their careers, in psychology, medicine and sports.**
Thus, my initial assumptions were correct: people in Madrid have only seen Google Glass in the media and no one had experienced it in real life. Come back in a couple of days to see what Glass reveals in Barcelona!
* All words in italics were conversations in Spanish.
** Email if you like more information on this.
Big thanks to The 3% Conference!