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Tech Writer Sarah Slocum on the Molotov's Attack and Google Glass at Restaurants

Left: Sarah Slocum. Right: A sign banning Google Glass at the Willows, San Francisco.
Left: Sarah Slocum. Right: A sign banning Google Glass at the Willows, San Francisco.
Photos: Sarah Slocum / @brokeasstuart
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

A few weeks ago, tech writer Sarah Slocum was allegedly attacked at a San Francisco bar for wearing Google Glass, even managing to capture video of the incident. In the weeks that have followed, the turf war between Glass enthusiasts and skeptics has raged. Bars in San Francisco have been banning the device, or banning people from making any recordings at all, and Slocum has called the attack a "hate crime."

Slocum — one of the earliest users of Google Glass through the Explorer program — tells Eater in the interview below about the attack at Molotov's, recounting what happened and what led her to use hate crime terminology. She also shares her experiences of wearing Google Glass at restaurants, the relationship of cell phones to Glass at the table, and why restaurateurs should even encourage their customers to use wearable technologies. "The ability of the patrons to be able to share their experience with their friends of where they're at and what they're eating is easier with Google Glass," says Slocum." And that's free marketing for these establishments ." Here's what Slocum had to say:

You've been called a "Google Glass evangelist," and I was curious about whether you have an official relationship with Google through the Explorer program and if you could tell me more about what it means to be an Explorer.

Yeah, I'm an official Google Glass Explorer. My affiliation with Google doesn't go beyond that at this point. I'm just an enthusiast who really loves new technology and I love Google Glass, and I really enjoy using it. I'm not sure exactly what you want to know about the Google Glass Explorer program, but I'd be happy to answer any questions.

I'm wondering if, for example, when you talk about Google Glass do you have to stick to Google's guidelines or do you get to speak your own experience, your own opinions?

Oh yeah, I'm not receiving any guidance from Google about what to say or what to do. So everything that I'm saying is completely not controlled. The words are my own.

Okay. Is there a way you think Google Glass should or shouldn't function within public spaces?

To try and say that you can't have Google Glass but you can bring a smartphone is really ridiculous.

I mean, just like smartphones now are ubiquitous. We surround ourselves with them pretty much, they're by our side nearly 100% of the time. This is the new wearable era. So people are going to start wearing Google Glass, or Epiphany or Recon ... Once you have it and you experience it, or even if you just try it on, you see it's really no different than our smartphones except it's a little bit smaller and its placement is different on our body.

To try and say that you can't have Google Glass but you can bring a smartphone is really ridiculous. It speaks in my mind that the people that are probably making these policies at these establishments are really misinformed about what Google Glass really is and how it functions.

[Photo: Michael Shane/The Verge]

Aside from Molotov's, what have your experiences been at bars and restaurants when you're wearing Google Glass?

When I go out in public some people don't notice or even know what it is, but the people that do notice it, they're generally just curious, interested ... When you wear it outside in public, you have to be willing to speak with people because they'll come up to you, they'll be curious about it ... I really like letting people try it on and showing them how it works. And it always puts a smile on peoples faces.

When you're wearing Google Glass at a restaurant, what are the main functions of the device that you're using?
Most of the time when I have it on, I'm not even necessarily using it. So the way that Google Glass works, is, it connects to my cell phone via bluetooth ... So if I get a call or text message or email, I'll get a little chime in my ear and I'll have the ability to either look at it right then and there, answer the call ...You get a text message and you can just say, "Okay Glass." It's all voice command unless you're tapping it, so you can just voice command prompt it into replying.

Have you ever been asked to remove the device by a staff member at a bar or a restaurant?

I've never been asked by any establishment to remove my Glass.

No, I've never been asked by any establishment. That night [at Molotov's] I wasn't asked by anybody to remove it. And nobody's ever asked me to remove it. And I've never been anywhere where I've seen the No Glass signs. I think it only just sprung up recently with the whole situation that just happened at Molotov's. But, no.

Well, within the restaurant industry, increasing phone usage, especially taking photos and texting at the table, have become sort of a hot button issue. You started talking about the relationship between Google Glass and phones and I'm curious if you can say more about if you see wearing Google Glass in a restaurant as any different from texting at the table, or is it just the same?

It's pretty much just the same. I don't really see much of a difference ... Obviously if we're out with our friends, or families or whatever, we try to show some social etiquette and not just be immersed in our technology.

So you touched on etiquette, and Google offered up some wisdom recently about how to avoid being rude with the Glass. Things like asking permission to record, and not being creepy. As you've experienced wearing Glass in restaurant and bars, are you picking up a sense of what the rules are for wearing Glass at a restaurant or bar?

[Long pause.] I don't know, it's just respect. It's the social contract that we have with people every day, whether we're wearing Glass or whether we're not wearing Glass. Just show common courtesy and respect to people that we're around. So normally it's not an issue. It's like, nobody, aside from this incident, nobody ever has a problem with it. Now after this incident has happened, some of the first things that people are saying are "Oh are you recording me now?" And it's like no I'm not recording you.

Most of the time, I don't just walk around with Google Glass on record. You don't want the crappy video. I'm not trying to take pictures or video of people I don't know. It's just pretty much just the same etiquette that we use on our cell phone...

The only reason I started recording [that night at Molotov's] is after I started feeling threatened and you know, flipped off, and started being targeted, bullied just for wearing Google Glass. So at that point I turned on record. And I told them that I was going to start recording them because I didn't know what else to do. I didn't understand why they were behaving like that. I was in complete shock that all of a sudden they had just turned around. I was completely blown away by the behavior of the woman.

Speaking of recording, to what extent do you think restaurateurs should be concerned about patrons wearing Google Glass and potentially recording other customers?

Are restaurant worried about people recording their customers with smartphones?

Are these restaurants or bars, are they worried about their customers recording their customers with their smartphones? People have better things to do. Just because you have a Google Glass doesn't mean that you're a spy. I'm not trying to secretly capture random people. Furthermore, it's so obvious. If I was really going to try and get any good video of some person, I'd be staring at them the whole time, or like following them around and staring at them. It's not like you can just do it secretly. It's not a spy device. It's very visible right there on their head.

People have to realize that everybody is being recorded, every single second of the day, the second that you step out of your house and into any metropolitan area. Where there's restaurants and bars and establishments. There are government, the CCTV, surveillance systems, government surveillance systems everywhere. That's a part of our life. There's tons of cameras everywhere.

To have any fear of Google Glass, it's really uncalled for. That would be like having a fear of smartphones ... Google Glass and wearables are a part of the 21st century. This is new technology and it's going to be adopted. And there's going to be tension when new technologies emerge. But anybody that has their own privacy concerns, if they see somebody out with Google Glass they have the ability to leave.

Is there any reason why a restaurateur might even encourage patrons to wear Glass at the restaurant?

Yeah, I think Glass makes things more accessible. So like sometimes when I've gone to a restaurant with Glass, I can immediately take a picture of my food and post it online to Twitter, or share it with my friends on Google+ or whatever. And that's free marketing for these establishments. The ability of the patrons to be able to share their experience with their friends of where they're at and what they're eating is easier with Google Glass ... The ability to take media at an establishment and share it with people is obviously liked by their marketing departments and they want more people to be exposed to their restaurant, bar or coffee shop or whatever.

[Photo: Michael Shane/The Verge]

You mentioned how some bars in San Francisco have banned Google Glass. And I know in Seattle, there is one restaurateur who was actually preemptively banned the device. Is there any way owners could address their concerns about Google Glass in their restaurant without outrightly banning them?

The incident sparked a lot of debate and conversation, online and even across the globe, about privacy. I don't know, I really think it was just blown out of proportion.

Everybody is really just going to have to come and accept that when you're in public, you're on camera.

I understand restaurants want to respect their clients that might be more on the privacy side. This is a whole other shift in reality. The public, and everybody is really just going to have to come and accept that when you're in public, you're on camera. You're on the establishment's cameras. You're already being recorded ... This is just a part of our reality now. We are all on video. Every single second of the day when we are in public.

And I just wanted to follow up about the experience at Molotov's. The experience of the attack, parts of which you were able to film, it was so intense. And you refer to it even as a hate crime, and I was wondering if you could tell me more about why you're using that terminology?

Basically, I used that terminology I think originally on my Facebook page and then people in the press, it erupted. But basically, I was having a great time, everything was fine, everything was normal until one of the girls, the off duty bartender at the place, just turned around and flipped me off really violently and said like "F" Google, or "F" Google Glass or whatever. I wasn't trying to get into any legal definition or term. But for me and my daily life and things that normally happen to me — I'm not normally having a good time, everything hunky dory, and all of a sudden get targeted. I had no interaction with these people, we hadn't exchanged any words. That was the first thing that they said to me. She just turned around violently flipped me off and says "F" whatever, and I was completely shocked. So for me, the only way that I could describe it was hate. And there was a crime, the guy tore them off my face, tried to rob them. Ran out of the bar, I had to chase him out. Luckily I got them back. But then some of the people in the establishment stole my purse, my cell phone and my wallet and my keys and everything like that.

So I experienced that hate. That was completely unfounded. They had judged me. I was judged. They made assumptions about me and took their anger and animosity and hate and just directed it at me for no reason aside from the fact that I had this technology.

Is there anything else that you want to add about your experience or about how Google Glass relates to restaurants or bars?

Yeah I think restaurants and bars, they should really embrace it ... I just really feel that everybody should just embrace this technology and start to use it because by using wearables and by using this type of technology we're going to be able to experience really awesome things like augmented reality and virtual reality.

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