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Arriving in Indio, California on a dry and windy 85-degree day this past weekend, I was met by what was by far the biggest crowd I've been around in the past two years. Along with about one hundred thousand other people, I was attending Coachella weekend one, the first iteration of the famed music and arts festival since 2019.
As I walked up the path to the main grounds with the other attendees, I immediately felt like I was witnessing the filling of a void. It goes without saying that we’ve all been missing a necessary level of human interaction since the pandemic began in 2020, in addition to a certain amount of fun that’s been left on the table due to a prioritization of safety over entertainment. The anticipation was palpable as I walked down the yellow path, watching people with their friends in their festival outfits, eyes getting wider and wider with each advancing step.
While a lot has changed since the last time Coachella was held, one thing remains true: what you bring (or don’t) to the grounds can make or break your day. Protection from the sun and dust is an obvious must, in addition to your phone and any other cameras you plan to use to document the day (or your fits for social media if you're one of many influencers in attendance). Luckily, I was able to cover my bases with just one item.
Last year, Ray-Ban jumped into the smart glasses market by collaborating with Facebook (now Meta) to create Ray-Ban Stories, a line of glasses that use bluetooth technology to connect to your phone. They combine audio and visual features that make your day-to-day more convenient, whether you’re going to and from work or attending one of the highest profile music events in the world. I was given a pair to test out for the festival, and was eager to see if they’d have any noticeable affect my experience.
The first thing that stood out to me most was how much more present I was able to be during the festival. In 2022, many of us are used to meticulously documenting our lives to share on social media — everything from trips to meals to an entire live set from our favorite band. Wearing the glasses, I was easily able to take photos and record video just by clicking a button on the arm of the frames — rather than worrying about grabbing my phone out of my pocket at the right moment or missing the build up to a song while trying to record. The high-quality cameras meant I also didn’t have to stand perfectly still in a crowd of people, blocking everyone else’s view while trying to get the perfect shot.
With the touchpad, voice commands, and built-in speakers, I was easily alerted to any calls coming through and was able to pick them up with one touch, controlling the volume by swiping my finger. Plus, the speakers were so high quality that I didn’t have any problem hearing my phone in a large crowd of people.
But when it comes down to it, maybe the most important feature of all is that the glasses don’t look nerdy. Up until now, companies making smart glasses have almost exclusively focused on technology and functionality with little to no regard for style and aesthetic design. This has led to a marketplace of advanced eyewear that can do a lot of cool stuff, but that you’d pray no one sees you wearing. Ray-Ban kept it simple, adding futuristic features to classic silhouettes like the Wayfarer and round frame sunglasses, and created a pair of smart glasses that you won’t be embarrassed to wear. The latest model has even improved on the original release, better integrating the touchpad and making the frame a little less bulky, resulting in a sleek model you’ll feel comfortable wearing even when you’re not using the built-in functions.
As I walked back to the rideshare pickup that night — still wearing my glasses in the dark to protect my eyes from the infamous desert dust storms — I couldn’t help but feel thankful that we’re able to come together like this again. I hadn’t fully realized until now how much I needed to be back in this kind of environment, connecting with a sea of strangers over a shared experience.