Six months on, Google Glass testers wish they could be removed

Many test subjects who had the glasses implanted in their skulls complain of headaches, partial blindness and injuries due to falling down or running into furniture

Many test subjects who had the glasses implanted in their skulls complain of headaches, partial blindness and injuries due to falling down or running into furniture. Photo by Ted Eytan

When Christopher Sontag was chosen to take part in the Google Glass Explorer Program, he felt like he had won the lottery. The 42-year-old web developer and self-described “techno-junkie” had been reading about the development of the wearable computer for months. His excitement was unlike anything he’d felt — at least since the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985.

Earlier this year, Sontag flew out to San Francisco to attend a release event and have Google Glass implanted into his skull. He said he felt his first pang of regret when he tried to sleep that night, but couldn’t. Although they are light, the glasses just weren’t very comfortable. From then on, things just got worse.

“It’s no fun having this on my face all the time,” Sontag said. “The frames got bent when I took a spill on my bike. So they’ve been rubbing against my temples, causing them to bleed. And I think the muscle in my right eye has been damaged by always looking off to the side.”

Even worse than the physical discomfort, he says, is the social stigma. Coworkers whom he used to consider friends are now running away when he approaches. Several people have even called him a “glasshole” to his face. He fears he will be fired because his boss insists on only communicating with him via email, a practice that annoys both of them.

“My friends and family don’t want me around anymore either,” he said. “They always think I’m recording them, or that I’m not paying attention when they speak. But how am I supposed to listen to my brother talk about his job interview when I have a Google ad flashing in my peripheral vision? I wish I could just take the dumb glasses off.”

Julie Breton, a medical student from Houston, has a similar story. At first she was excited about being selected to try Google Glass, but her enthusiasm waned a few days after the implantation. She claims that although the glasses are designed to be silent, she can hear an almost-imperceptible clicking, maybe caused by the tiny gyroscopes embedded in the temple piece. The sound became so unbearable that she took a year off of medical school and has started taking anti-anxiety medication.

“I’ve had a terrible headache since around June,” Breton said. “I think it’s Bluetooth. I feel like I have a tumor. I’d like to get a scan, but I’ll have to wait till the end of the trial period or the glasses can get damaged. And man, always having that damn display near the corner of your eye is nightmarish.”

“I keep bumping into walls,” she added.

Laura Sanchez, spokesperson for the Glass Explorer Program, said the test subjects will need to continue wearing the prototypes for another six months, so that sufficient data may be collected about the subjects’ preferences and the item’s ease of use. She noted that a team of psychologists have been studying the effects on the mind of wearing Google Glass in order to see if people can maintain psychological integrity or if they will go “bonkers,” which would mean Google would have to redesign the product and devise another phase of testing.