Google exec calls smartphones 'emasculating': The fallout

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Google co-founder Sergey Brin sporting Google Glass.
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Google co-founder Sergey Brin sporting Google Glass.

"Is the future of connection just people walking around hunched up, looking down, rubbing a featureless piece of glass?"

Google co-founder Sergey Brin, by all accounts a private guy and brilliant logician, took the stage at the TED Conference Wednesday in Long Beach, Calif., to expound on the possibilities of Glass — the high-tech monocle he hopes you'll one day wear across your face. At the heart of his talk was this argument: Glass, as opposed to a smartphone that you're constantly anti-socially peering into, will make us all brighter, more communicative people in the long run.  

"Is this the way you're meant to interact with people?" asked Brin, speaking on our collective smartphone addiction. "Is the future of connection just people walking around hunched up, looking down, rubbing a featureless piece of glass?"

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He continued: "It's kind of emasculating. Is this what you're meant to do with your body?"

To be fair, I don't think he meant "emasculating" in the icky gendered sense of "robbing a person of their manhood" — as a few writers seem to think — but rather in the way smartphones deprive individuals of their vitality, making them less "alive." (I could be wrong. Upon becoming a multibillionaire, Brin reportedly exhibited some pretty bro-y tendencies, including a desire to transform a Boeing 767 into a "party plane" with giant beds everywhere. So there's that.)

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Of course, Brin's comments hit a nerve.

"Sergey Brin suggested that cellphones are 'emasculating,'" said former TechTV host Chris Pirillo in a tweet. "What message is he sending to Android customers?"

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John Gruber at Daring Fireball was equally critical:

We're taking advice on cool from this guy?… I can see the argument that dicing around with our phones in public is not cool, that we should pay more attention to our companions and surroundings, and less to our computer displays. Strapping a computer display to your face is not the answer. [Daring Fireball]

Critics may be too quick to dismiss Glass. Yesterday, an eBay listing for what appeared to be an early model shot up to $15,900 (its retail price is $1,500). The product turned out to be fake. And last week, the big tech story was The Verge's Joshua Topolsky test-driving a pair in a slick video, which added to Glass' hype. 

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It's clear: People are excited about Glass. It will undoubtedly drive innovation forward. Is it a cure-all for our latent smartphone addictions? Nah — probably not. And hopefully by the next Glass presentation, Brin will have learned to choose his words more carefully.

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