Article published on Dec. 16, 2013
Article published on Dec. 16, 2013

In 2014, Google will launch its eponymous Google Glass, the lightweight lenses that will allow us to surf the net literally at a glance. Whether they will revolutionize our lives or not, one thing is for sure: from Medieval times up to the 21st century, glasses themselves may not have changed but those who wear them most definitely have.

We’re all ac­quainted with the cin­e­mato­graphic trope as­so­ci­ated with the 'nerd', who falls to the ground under the blows of the on-duty bully. They are the ac­ces­sory that best rep­re­sents the sad fate of these play­ground weak­lings. Not the giant ruck­sack or the colour­ful socks that pro­trude from the tops of their All Stars. We are talk­ing about glasses - the very same ones that, falling to the ground along with their in­aus­pi­cious owner, bounce along the rough as­phalt be­fore bully num­ber one bounds over to smash them into pieces.


Mis­treated from the early years of school, they are the sym­bol of the teach­ers’ pet who sits in the front row and re­ceives con­stant praise from the teach­ers. How can we for­get those poor souls branded ‘four eyes’ for the lenses so thick that they seemed to du­pli­cate the num­ber of their pupils? What about all those girls who turn up to prom wear­ing just the right thing – apart from the wire frames fixed firmly to their eager, soon-to-be-dis­ap­pointed faces? These were the nineties and with the end of the mil­len­nium just around the cor­ner one thing seemed cer­tain: glasses would for­ever re­main an in­deli­ble mark of the not-so-sexy.

Yet, as we made our way through the first year of the noughties, there ar­rived one of the first nov­el­ties of the cen­tury: in the blink of an eye the ig­no­ble ac­ces­sory was re­placed (as we thought back then…) once and for all by con­tact lenses. The trend spread even among the youngest gen­er­a­tions and glasses were barely able to grace the shad­ows of the school­yard with their pres­ence. There were even those who would change their eye colour wear­ing those dev­il­ish dis­pos­able lenses… with­out risk­ing being ac­cused of im­i­tat­ing Lady Gaga.


It’s un­clear whether the cause of this phe­nom­e­non can be as­cribed to the cri­sis (the iden­tity one, not the other one) or to the old idea ‘we were bet­ter off when we were worse off,’ but after 2010 the trend be­came in­verted – al­most di­rectly mir­ror­ing the Restora­tion at the be­gin­ning of the 18th cen­tury. Glasses were trans­formed from the sym­bol of the loser to that of the cool kid. Who could have pre­dicted that?

Now, as we em­brace the phe­nom­e­non of the hip­ster, it’s all about the frames - that only re­ally count if they are at least as thick as your Gran’s. This trend is so all-en­com­pass­ing that there are many who must stoop to buy­ing frame-only glasses, curs­ing fate that they were born with­out sight de­fects. Of course, there are still some who pre­fer con­tact lenses, but this trend has most def­i­nitely cre­ated a niche in the mar­ket and rep­re­sents a fash­ion state­ment that is sup­ported, whether con­sciously or not, by ac­tors and artists the world over.


Celebs aside, it is in no way a co­in­ci­dence that the ‘pro­fes­sor look’, as­so­ci­ated with these oft-adapted ac­ces­sories, is storm­ing its way back into the fash­ion world. Glasses were cre­ated as schol­arly, eru­dite ob­jects, used by those Me­dieval leg­ends who were able to ma­nip­u­late the fields of human knowl­edge with each stroke of their quill.

The story of the orig­i­nal dif­fu­sion of glasses by monks and mer­chants trav­el­ling be­tween Venice, Pisa and Flo­rence is today only a cou­ple of clicks away thanks to good old Google. And per­haps, as we re­turn to moder­nity and Google’s Moun­tain View HQ, this story is going to come full cir­cle.

The mys­te­ri­ous ac­ces­sory cur­rently known as Google Glass (the ultra light­weight, dig­i­tal glasses) per­haps rep­re­sents the next in­ver­sion of the trend - with the agree­ment of the hip­ster com­mu­nity, whose exit from the ‘scene’ is en­vis­aged for 2014. Rep­re­sent­ing the final stage of a pro­ject that was dreamt up in the Boston labs of MIT back in 1998, these glasses will allow us to surf the web with­out using our hands, to stream every­thing we are see­ing on­line and to be­come synapses of the in­ter­net our­selves, in place of our smart­phones. On the one hand, we seem to have reached a point of no re­turn and yet, at the same time, there is a trend that will al­ways re­main: we may never again be the class­room ‘specky four eyes,’ or the girl grop­ing help­lessly on the ground for her glasses, but even with Google Glass, the only change is that we might be slightly cooler than be­fore.