Meet Patrick Hill, a 37-year old web dev from Queens who told Google during their #ifIhadGlass campaign that if he had Glass, he would turn his life into a reality show. Having won himself a pair — and with a New York Post reporter in tow — Hill decided he needed to really show off. So he and the journo hit VIP, a Manhattan strip club.
The bouncer at the club was spellbound by the device, not quite convinced it was possible that it was a computer and a phone and a camera — right on your face! He let Hill and the reporter in. It was a moment before one of the bartenders serving them noticed Glass and asked whether Hill was recording. Soon, a manager got involved: check Glass with your coat or get the hell out. Hill panicked at the thought of his $1,500 baby sitting in a coat check where anyone could make off with it. Could he put it in his pocket and pinky swear to leave it there?
When Hill spoke with CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk about this, he expressed dismay at the “overreaction” of the strip club staff.
“Even without Glass, we have no privacy,” Hill said. “So to think people are up in arms about privacy when it comes to Glass is pretty silly to me when we already have no privacy. I think people need to be more worried about what Uncle Sam is prying in on.”
This sort of thinking — that sex workers are overreacting about being recorded because they chose to be sex workers — came up a couple of months ago in a Forbes piece by David Thier:
Yesterday, NBC News ran a story detailing some of the other places that don’t want patrons with cameras strapped to their faces. This includes large swaths of Las Vegas, in the form of strip clubs and casinos. Such places already ban recording devices of any kind, and since Glass is very much a recording device, it’s out. [ … ] And that’s just the relatively innocuous world of commercial protection. A stripper, after all, has already agreed to have people look at them naked. The idea of voyeurs and predators enabled by a covert device is much more disturbing.
By that logic, someone who goes to a sex club or an orgy doesn’t have any expectation of staying off the web — we have chosen, after all, to have people look at us having sex. If someone records it, well, that’s not as bad as a predator covertly recording us at the gym.
What Thier and Hill seem to miss is that working in any aspect of the sex industry is dangerous. Men and women do it for a variety of reasons, often summarized into three categories: choice, circumstance, and coercion. Even if you exclude those who are coerced into participation, you need to take into account that many people in the sex industry are not planning to make life-long careers out of it. The Nina Hartleys of the world are few and far between. Most likely, people tend to get in, get paid and get out.
The problem is that in this social climate you can’t get out if your sex industry identity becomes irrevocably tied to you — and in many cases, if it’s discovered, it won’t just get tied to you, it will be branded on you. No matter how long ago it happened. We’ve seen it again and again: Sarah Tressler, a society columnist at the Houston Chronicle, was fired for moonlighting as a stripper; Stacie Halas, a middle school teacher, was fired because despite the fact that her nine month stint in skin was long since over, the materials continue to be available over the internet; Tericka Dye, a science teacher and volleyball coach, was suspended and her contract not renewed because almost two decades prior, she’d been in porn; Kevin Hogan, head of the English department at a high school, was sacked over his porn past despite an illustrious teaching career; Tiffany Shepherd, a biology teacher, was let go after photos of her in a bikini surfaced — after a divorce she’d taken a gig as a cruise hottie at Smokin’ Em Charters; Carlie Beck, a cheerleading coach, was fired for being a Playboy‘s Cyber Girl of the Week; Sasha Grey, long since mainstream, can’t even read a story to little kids, for God’s sake …
I could go on. But I think you get the idea. Being in the sex industry isn’t like being a writer, where people can ignore, if not forgive, the fact that you once wrote for a fish-wrapper. It’s not like being a web dev, where no one really cares what you’ve worked on so long as you know what you’re doing.
The sex industry, even the legal aspects, are a completely different animal. Working within it will cost you any hope of work afterward if you’re not careful. It will be dredged up whenever a crime is committed against you, as evidence that maybe, just maybe you deserve that crime a little more than a “good” person. It will be dragged out during divorces. Custody cases. Forget adopting. Good luck with health insurance.
Well, you say. That was your choice. You should have known the consequences of doing this bad, socially reprehensible thing.
But that’s the heart of the issue: I don’t think this is a bad, socially reprehensible thing. I think that modeling, stripping, doing porn, etc., are jobs, just like being a blogger or a web dev. They are legal, just like being a blogger or a web dev. People who do them should pay taxes, just like a blogger and a web dev should. And I really think people ought to have the right to choose them and be able to leave them behind when they decide to move on.
But they can’t. And this fear of losing everything because, on their way up the ladder, they used the sex industry as a rung is very, very real. The danger is more clear, more present than the idea that Uncle Sam is checking our e-mails and monitoring our phone calls while looking for terrorists. When you’re already afraid — living day to day on a visa of peace that could expire at any time because some asshole walked into your club with a pair of Glass and put your set on YouTube — you’re not going to sit around worrying about how much this country is starting to resemble the Soviet Union.
This isn’t because you’re small-minded, stressing about petty issues. This is because when you’re this afraid, this vulnerable, when you have so little recourse even though you’ve done nothing illegal, you pretty much already live in the Soviet Union.
UPDATE: At 7:51 PM Pacific, Patrick Hill posted a response on my Google+ thread about this story saying:
I was the guy that wore them into the club. I just want to bring up that 1. It was strictly an experiment the newspaper cooked up to see if we could get in wearing glass (we didn’t even think we would make it past the door). I’m 37 and that’s only the 4th time in my life I’ve been to a strip club. I don’t find them fun at all. I think they are more torturous than anything. lol
2. My statements about privacy were general statements about people’s privacy concerns when it came to Glass and not specific to a strip club. I do believe there are some places privacy should ALWAYS be respected and not violated. For example, I work in a Hospital where we are under strict government regulation about patient’s privacy. I wear glass to work every day and wear it when walking around the hospital. However, I am respectful of people’s privacy when I’m walking around with Glass. I don’t go around snapping pictures or videos. The only random pics I take are in public places where street photographers could take the same pictures. I have even proved that taking pictures/video with a cell phone can be hidden and taken much more on the down low than I could with Glass. I always take the time to explain it to people and even as go as far as take pictures of them with my phone (acting like I’m checking my email or something) while I’m talking to them and then showing them the pictures I just took. I tell them that with Glass they at least know I may or may not be taking a picture or video. They see it and they know the possibility exists. However, when I was sneaky on my phone they never thought twice about it, never suspected I was snapping pics of them. So I then have to ask which is really more intrusive on privacy? A cell phone? Or Glass? What about the sound recorder on my phone? I mean all of these things can be used as tools to invade privacy but as it is with many things. It’s the person’s hand it’s in that determines if the tool is being used properly or abused ad used for wrong.
My response, also on the thread:
Thank you for responding. As I have said repeatedly in this thread, this post is not about Google Glass. I used the story of your strip club foray as a spring board to talk about the stigma faced by people in the sex industry. It is not a condemnation of Glass, but an essay about why sex workers have every reason to be weary of recording devices and why rules against them in clubs are important.
From your comment, I can see that you have an understanding of patients’ and other people’s privacy. That’s great. I hope that courtesy will extend to sex workers from here on out, even if you once again find yourself with a journo riding your ass for a good story.