In the run-up to Thursday's 2013 NBA draft, one of the neat little side stories that bubbled to the surface was the news that Indiana guard and likely lottery pick Victor Oladipo was wearing Google Glass — a computer that you literally wear on your head and face like eyeglasses — to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. There was some question as to how Oladipo acquired them, because Google Glass were available only through an opaque application program that closed several months ago.
As it turns out, Oladipo, chosen by the Orlando Magic with the No. 2 overall pick, was wearing them as part of a marketing campaign from obtained the glasses with an assist from the firm Carrot Creative. Watch the video above for more on Oladipo's experience, and read Nilay Patel at The Verge for details:
Victor actually wore Glass for three days, after spending some time on Tuesday figuring out how to use the device. The hardest part was just getting them fitted; once he could see the tiny screen, he instantly understood what to do. After only about five minutes of instructions and testing he was recording himself dribbling around the lobby of the Westin and asking Glass for directions to the Barclay’s Center, where Thursday’s draft was held.
Victor says he liked the feeling that he was hosting his own show — most of the videos he took feature him narrating what he’s seeing and how he’s feeling, as though he’s trying to remember it all through the chaos. It is a fascinating and wildly intimate glimpse of what it’s like to be a 21-year-old superstar in the making. "If you thought I was nervous yesterday, imagine how I’m feeling this morning," he says, looking out over New York from his hotel room on draft day. "Come with me on the VO Show." [...]
In the midst of it all, Victor says Glass wasn’t distracting to him, although it did attract a fair share of attention from his fellow players. "Alex Len was really into it," he says. "Michael Carter-Williams, Ben Mclemore, all the guys. They thought it was pretty cool, they tried ‘em on, got their own perspective. It was pretty fresh."
If you read The Verge piece, it becomes fairly obvious that Carrot Creative had Oladipo sport Google Glass to try to change the image surrounding the product. When it was first announced, Glass came across as a tool of the uber-nerd, a sort of futuristic omni-computer that would ensure people wouldn't have to go seven seconds without processing the world in an unmediated, non-technological way. It didn't help that Google founder Sergey Brin introduced Glass by calling his smartphone "emasculating," as if the ability to have a conversation without needing to peer down at a stock portfolio were a right of existence. (Never mind that such a comment alienated women and perpetuated the worst impressions of male-dominated Silicon Valley culture.)
UPDATE: A representative of Carrot Creative contacted me to note that there was no official promotion between the firm and Google to get Oladipo to sport Glass. The idea arose from a networking luncheon co-hosted by Carrot Creative and Google. Carrot then contacted Thuzio, a company geared towards connecting fans and athletes, which hooked them up with Oladipo for the draft. The Verge agreed to an exclusive story of their own volition, as well. Additionally, The Verge had full editorial control over the piece.
However, we are still left with an article and video focused on the greatness of Google Glass.
Oladipo is a charismatic athlete, so the very fact that he enjoyed and used Google Glass without incident could help to alter the first impressions of many potential consumers. In the blockquote above, notice how Patel emphasizes the speed at which Oladipo was able to familiarize himself with the product, the power he felt in control of "his own show," the vaguely "Strange Days"-ish way in which his experiences become our own. It's an attempt to present Glass as an essential part of an active lifestyle, a natural extension of our world. And anyone who doesn't agree is not to be trusted:
But once the league noticed his unusual eyewear, it was all over. "I got to wear them on the bus, and in the green room, and that’s when they kinda shut it down," he says. "They just said they didn’t want me to wear them." [...]
It’s not exactly clear why the NBA decided that Victor shouldn’t wear Glass at the draft, but it’s disappointing; only an incredibly select few know what it’s like to walk up the stairs and across that stage to shake David Stern’s hand as your life changes forever, and Victor’s first-person video would have given the rest of us a glimpse of that moment. It would have been amazing. But Glass is weird and new, and the NBA is not known for loving weird and new; the league was the first major US sports organization to adopt a formal dress code, and it has fined players for wearing unapproved sweaters. Funky glasses with a built-in camera didn’t really stand a chance.
From this perspective, Google Glass was simply too hip for the NBA, a stuffy league without a sense of what's cutting-edge. (Apparently a commissioner encouraging his league's fans into booing him is not weird.) Of course, Google is also a multi-billion-dollar corporation trying to advance its own agenda, and they opted to use a prospective employee of that supposedly stodgy organization for some desirable image maintenance. At best, this is an example of two massive companies with competing business interests, not a battle for the soul of American culture between snobs and slobs.
I don't doubt that Oladipo had a very good time with his Google Glass, and perhaps it's not as intrusive a product as many critics (including me) initially feared. But we should call Oladipo's test-drive what it is. He was chosen to present Google Glass as part of a lifestyle, and any description of his experience should be regarded as such.
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- Victor Oladipo