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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.

Translated from Da "quattr'occhi" ai Google Glass: l'odissea degli occhiali