Eve Peyser makes her case for an analog wardrobe.
Illustration by Lauren Tamaki
We live in an over-teched world—carrying around little devices that give us access to more information than our brains even know what to do with, pinging us with an endless stream of notifications. So, when it comes to the idea of wearable tech, my first question is, literally, why?
I’m a young millennial, born in the early ’90s, meaning I came of age alongside the Internet and watched the hardware evolve with it. I saw phones get smart and social media become integrated into our daily lives as I went through puberty. At age 19, I was the last of my friends to get a smartphone. I held out for as long as I could resist, because I was dubious of the idea of carrying the Internet around in my pocket. (Also, they were expensive!) I was aware of how much time I wasted on my laptop, and I didn’t feel inclined to take it with me on the go. Still, like the good, technologically inclined millennial I am, I succumbed to the addictive nightmare of social media and even managed to build a writing career off my social media presence, among other things. Nevertheless, I often feel like my phone owns me and not the other way around. So, the idea of wearing technology on my body, affixing the thing to which I am so addicted directly onto my flesh, is the last thing I want to do. I don’t need to further integrate myself into the machines.
The idea of wearable tech is also sort of enticing. After all, isn’t technology supposed to somehow better society? I mean, that’s the narrative Silicon Valley pedals. Apple CEO Tim Cook once said, “Some people see innovation as change, but we have never really seen it like that. It’s making things better.” If that’s the case, you might wonder how wearable tech—aside from lifesaving medical devices— really makes anything better. The major wearable tech products, thus far, have yet to make a lasting impression. Let’s use Google Glass as a case study.
Google Glass, if you recall, was Google’s attempt to put your phone on your face. It was the hot thing among an elite crowd for a minute back in 2012, with Diane von Furstenberg wearing the device at her show during New York Fashion Week and later designing her own frames to go along with it. But even though it was a cool idea for a product, the rollout was sort of disastrous. It was only available to a select group of innovators for the high price tag of $1,500, and the technology itself was, in the words of one user, “the worst . . . of all time.”
What’s worse (or better, depending on how you look at things), Google Glass became something of a joke. Even attaching Diane von Furstenberg to the product couldn’t do anything to make it cooler, because we, as a society, learned that everybody—yes, even the fashion elite— looks stupid wearing cameras on their faces.
What Google Glass (which is no longer in production) teaches us is that just because you can make technology, it doesn’t mean you should. The glasses had a camera attached to them, meaning you could film people without their knowledge or consent, which raised legitimate privacy concerns. In 2014, a group of people at a San Francisco bar assaulted a woman wearing Google Glass. They were harassing her for wearing Google Glass, but they began assaulting her after she informed them she was recording them. The product literally incited violence and also fell victim to merciless online mockery.
Though Google Glass was a disappointment, wearable tech isn’t necessarily doomed. Snapchat released its own sunglasses-cum-cameras in 2016, which were not greeted with nearly the same amount of hostility as Google Glass was. Called Spectacles, they were immediately sold to the general public at an affordable price ($150), though if you wanted a pair, you had to wait in a very long line at a specialty Snapchat vending machine that looked an awful lot like one of those ubiquitous yellow Minions from the movies. Spectacles look far trendier than Google Glass, but one of the reasons Snapchat’s cyber-optic wear ended up being more socially acceptable than Google’s is because the product was released in 2016, not 2013. Far more people have smartphones. We’re in the era of Facebook Live and Periscope. Basically, we’ve started to acquiesce to living in a society where you might be filmed without your knowledge or consent.
Unlike smartglasses, smartwatches have received a relatively mellow reception. Apple Watch is by no means a must-have product, but if you’re a runner or a superfan of both Apple and Hermès (who has its own line of bands), I can understand why you’d buy one.
I’d surmise that the reason wearable tech isn’t as pervasive as Silicon Valley hopes it would be is because we haven’t quite figured out our relationship with technology yet, or perhaps haven’t accepted the idea that it will come to dominate our lives more and more. That’s what I’m afraid of. I tried out the Apple Watch, but I didn’t want to feel a vibration on my wrist every time I got a text message. My phone does that for me, and what’s cool about that is it doesn’t have to be attached to me. I can check it whenever I want. I also tried out a friend’s pair of Snapchat Spectacles. I think I mostly liked them because I thought I looked pretty wearing them, but I wasn’t enthralled. The whole operation felt like too much work—syncing it up with my phone, taking the video with the glasses, removing the glasses to watch the video on my phone to see if it’s worth posting.
Really, though, whether you enjoy wearable tech depends on your fundamental view of technology. For me, it is both a pleasure and a burden, and it’s something my job requires me to be hooked into all the time. I want to be free of it. But for many people (whom I envy), it’s a toy, something cool to play around with. And if you look at it that way, then I wish you luck on your wearable tech journey.
Eve Peyser is a journalist and comedian. She writes for VICE.com, and her work has appeared in New York magazine, GQ and Esquire, among others.