"Finally, I'm not a slave to my stupid human eyeballs!" Lenny Leonard exclaims as he puts on his Oogle Goggles, a few minutes into Sunday's episode of The Simpsons, entitled "Specs and the City." In it, the citizens of Springfield look at Google Glass from a variety of angles, and come to a surprisingly human conclusion about an incredibly technical device.
Everyone at the Springfield Power Plant receives their Christmas gift from Mr. Burns, and this year, instead of a Hound-A-Day Calendar or a stress ball that's a lot more terrifying than cathartic, they're all given "Oogle Goggles." The new augmented reality headsets essentially do two things: they let the wearer see information about the people and things around them, and let Mr. Burns spy on his employees in an elaborate scheme to curb office-supply theft around the plant. Like everyone he works with, Homer immediately takes to the Goggles.
The Goggles are used for good, evil, and brownies
One commercial break and a few months later, we find Homer in bed, staring into his Goggles, giggling. "I’m watching videos of idiots wearing these glasses and not paying attention to the world around them," he says. He reaches over, grabs his alarm clock instead of his sandwich, and takes a big bite. "Look at these jerks!" The Oogle Goggles are in turn used to aid in making brownies and love, and eventually give Homer an unexpected look into Marge's private life.
The episode relentlessly pokes fun at the ridiculousness of Oogle Goggles, Google Glass, and their ilk — Homer asks for restaurant recommendations and gets soup kitchen listings, and he learns more about a Krusty Burger than anyone should ever know. But there's also a constant questioning of something bigger: the show seems to wonder where we ought to draw the lines between sharing and secrets, between knowing things and knowing each other.
Everyone wearing Oogle Goggles has at their fingertips all the information necessary to explain the world around them. But Homer can't stop his kids fighting in the backseat by explaining that the rearview mirror was invented for just these occasions. And when he stumbles on a surprising secret of Marge's, he decides there's more value in not knowing than he realizes.
The episode's secondary plot revolves around Bart and Lisa (and makes way for easily the best moment in the episode), who have to give every kid in their class a Valentine. Both think long and hard before giving their nemeses a wonderfully personal, thoughtful, sort of weird card. (The third plot, such as it is, is a series of unsubtle Super Bowl promotions. Evidently it's on Fox, on Sunday. In case we forgot.)
Sure, there are some scary implications to Oogle Goggles — especially in Mr. Burns' cold, dead hands — and to Google Glass. And we do look kind of ridiculous: Marge's parting thoughts as she leaves Homer in their bedroom, "I'm afraid wives don't make passes at husbands in those glasses," is a hard epithet to forget. But what we see, what we do, and how we interact are still up to us, fancy glasses or no fancy glasses. And there's more to people than what our fancy glasses show us.
It's a smart, nuanced take on an important technological moment; that's something of a Simpsons specialty. There's only one question left unanswered: what would Maggie have done with the Goggles? I want to know what she'd see.