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Saturday, May 18, 2013

At Google Conference, Cameras Even in the Bathroom

6:55 p.m. | Updated

The future came crashing down on me this week at the Google I/O developer conference while I stood at a bathroom urinal.

I had just wrapped up a conversation with a man who owned a pair of Google's Internet-connected glasses, Google Glass. He had explained that one of the gadget's greatest features is the ability to snap a photo with a wink. “It's amazing, you just look at something, wink your eye and it just takes a picture,” he said enthusiastically.

I should preface here by saying that that I'm a nerd. I've been a nerd all my life, always buying the first era of a new gadget - essentially anything with a button and a battery. But this week, the moment I swung open the doors to the Moscone Center in San Francisco, home of the developer conference, I felt like a mere mortal among an entirely different class of super-connected humans.

Everywhere I looked at the conference, people were wearing Google Glass. Hundreds of them. Maybe more than a thousand! They were on the escalator. At the coffee stations. Press lounges. Lingering in the hallways like gangs of super nerds. They looked like real people as they nibbled on M&M's and nuts at the snack bars. Except they weren't; these “humans” were able to take pictures with their eyes and then post them to the Internet.

The developers present who didn't own the company's augmented reality glasses stared at those who did with awe. But not me. I tried to duck my head and move out of the way of these strangers' sneaky little cameras.

Often, Google Glass owners looked strange. Many were using their cellphones while wearing the glasses - defeating a declared purpose of the new gadget, to free you from having to look at your phone. Another man continually looked at his watch to check the time, even through the glasses display a clock right above your eye.

At one point as I climbed the stairs and approached the second floor, I saw a group of five people wearing Google Glass, all silently staring off into space. I couldn't tell if they were wirelessly having a conversation through their eyeballs, or just bored by the presence of real humans in front of them.

Then I met the man who excitedly told me about his power to snap pictures with his eyelid. (The wink, it should be noted, is not officially supported by Glass, but is essentially a hack “sideloaded” onto the device.) He explained that he uses the wink-to-take-a-picture feature so much that a few days ago he was not wearing his Google Glass and was confused when he blinked his eye and nothing happened. His mind had played a trick on him, he said.

I laughed nervously as he told me the story, his Google Glass propped atop his nose, unsure if he was winking or blinking at me, taking pictures or just clearing dirt from his eyes. I then excused myself to go to the toilet.

As I approached the line to the restroom, I took a deep sigh, thinking that I might find some respite from the hundreds of cameras strapped to people's heads at the conference.

Yet when it was finally my turn to approach the rows of white urinals, my world came screeching to a halt. There they were, a handful of people wearing Google Glass, now standing next to me at their own urinals, peering their head from side to side, blinking or winking, as they relieved themselves.