Share story

SAN FRANCISCO — When a tech consultant showed off her Google Glass the other night at a San Francisco bar, the result was explosive — and reflected a growing debate over whether the cutting-edge device that mounts a computer and camera on a wearer’s face goes too far and breaks the social compact.

The reported attack on Sarah Slocum, who said the eyewear was ripped from her face before she was robbed of other belongings, had the Internet buzzing after it was first reported this week.

Police said it appeared to be the first incident of violence in San Francisco over Google Glass, which hasn’t yet been released to the public at large. Still, it has raised questions over whether some breakthroughs in technology, while impressive and convenient, might be rejected by a society anxious about lost privacy and a collective absorption in personal gadgetry.

Users of Google Glass, who now include only a select group of product testers, have encountered not only wonder when they go out in public but also occasional friction — if not outright restrictions on wearing the device in restaurants and cafes, not to mention casinos and movie theaters.

“It makes people very uncomfortable,” said Ken Goldberg, a professor of engineering at UC Berkeley and head of the school’s Art, Technology and Culture lecture series. “While people are OK with cellphones and cameras, when you place that device on the eyes, you’ve changed the equation.”

Goldberg said the public is likely to become more accepting of the new technology as it becomes more widespread. But that could take time.

The latest run-in involved Slocum, 34, a local tech writer and marketing consultant who says she was taunted after giving others a peek at her eyewear early Saturday at Molotov’s in the Lower Haight. According to a police report and witness accounts, Slocum and a male friend were approached by a small group of people who didn’t appear to take a liking to her paraphernalia.

“They started rolling their eyes at me and they tried to shield themselves from the Glass because they thought it was recording them, which it wasn’t,” Slocum told The Chronicle in an interview Tuesday. “Out of the blue, one of the girls turned around and completely flipped me off. At that point, I was like, ‘Holy crap, I’m the target of their anger and hatred.’ ”

Slocum said that while she was not recording footage initially, she turned on the camera after she felt threatened.

She said a young man — whom police officials described as 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds with a short beard and a gray plaid hat — then ripped the Google Glass off her face and ran out of the bar. Slocum pursued the man, she said, who eventually relinquished her glasses. But when she returned, others had taken her purse, phone and wallet.

Slocum said the group’s ill will appeared to have gone beyond concern over the camera feature of the glasses, to issues with the tech community as a whole. She said one of her assailants told her, “You guys are killing the city.”

Some in San Francisco blame tech workers for driving up housing costs and displacing lower-income residents. Such a view culminated in the “Google Bus” blockades, where demonstrators surrounded private shuttles that transport tech employees in San Francisco to corporate campuses in Silicon Valley.

Slocum said it was the first time she has encountered a problem since she started wearing Google Glass a month ago. Mostly, she said, people are curious and want to learn more about the gadget.

In the past, the biggest problems reported by Bay Area Glass wearers have been occasional bans in coffee shops. Across the country, Glass users have reported being asked to remove the eyewear in casinos and movie theaters for fear that they’ll make illegal recordings.

Driving with the device is also shaping up as a battleground.

In San Diego, a woman was cited for wearing Google Glass while driving, though a judge later tossed the ticket because there was no evidence the computer was turned on. Google is reportedly seeking to prevent laws against driving with the device.

Anticipating problems with the technology, Google launched a public-relations campaign to better assimilate the gadget.

The Mountain View company is holding nationwide forums for people to try the product, and earlier this month even released an etiquette guide for its beta-testers — so they don’t become “glassholes.”

The guide advises its “explorers” not to “glass out” or zone out with the device and to avoid being “creepy,” standing in the corner and blatantly recording people.

“New technology raises new concerns, and the Glass team is sensitive to those concerns,” Google Glass spokeswoman Anna Richardson White said in an interview Tuesday.

More than 10,000 people are currently testing the device, Richardson White said. The product, which most users bought for about $1,500, is expected to be available to the public later this year.