Who is that guy on the BeltLine with a TV on his head?

ATLTVHEAD is just an Atlantan who wants to make you smile

Nate Damen wearing his TV head on the BeltLine Eastside Trail
Nate Damen on the BeltLine Eastside Trail

Photograph by Corey Nickols

Atlantans is a first-person account of the familiar strangers who make the city tick. This month’s is Nate Damen, also known as ATLTVHEAD, as told to Josh Green.

In layman’s terms, it’s a helmet—which is also an actual television from the 1960s. And it has an LED display that’s connected to the internet. My cellphone is the hotspot. If you go to my website, you can change the colors—the different LED animations occurring on the helmet—live. If you’re out in person with me, I have this glove on my left hand that detects high-fives, handshakes, and fist-bumps, which send an animation to the television. So, you’ll see an instant animation on the TV, maybe a cloud formation or a flock of birds. But the heart is always there.

At night, I’m completely blind. During the daytime, I have maybe 75 percent vision range. It’s almost like wearing a pair of Kanye West shutter-shades.

When I graduated from Georgia Tech in 2014—I studied mechanical engineering, actually, totally unrelated to electronics—I stayed in town, and a lot of my friends left, most of them to work on the West Coast. I realized a few months down the road: I wasn’t really meeting people. I was thinking about how I might get that sort of human interaction that usually you get from a friend group. Then I went to a concert, and the musician, Slow Magic, was wearing a mask, and I thought, You know, masks are pretty cool. It’s almost socially understood that if you wear a mask, you are hidden, keeping your identity private, but it also allows other people to remain hidden, too. It’s this weird, unspoken thing about a mask.

“I’ve had one person forget they were wearing my TV. I could tell he was a little inebriated. He put it on. And then this guy was like, ‘What’s on my head?'”

I try to show a future filled with technology that has its priority on people, this positive, fun future. It’s also good to have art that is just, I won’t say surface-level, but when you see it, you understand what the project is about.

I’ve definitely had some moments that were sucker-punches to the gut. Someone walks by and says, “Well, that’s not cool.” I’ve made small children cry before—not meaning to, by any means. And I’ve had one person forget they were wearing my TV. I could tell he was a little inebriated. He put it on. And then this guy was like, “What’s on my head? What’s going on?” I’m like, Wait, did he forget he’s wearing my TV? He ended up all right. We got him some water, sat him down.

I recently got one of the BeltLine artists grants, which is why I’ve been focusing more on the BeltLine as of late. But I definitely enjoy walking in random neighborhoods, just kind of surprising people.

Atlanta is such a broad city; the population is exploding, and with that growth, I know problems occur. The other side of that is, when you have all this mixture, all this diversity, that’s when culture comes out. That’s when people can express themselves a little bit more, and they feel like they have more of a voice. If anything, I just hope this project can make people feel like they can express themselves however they wish and own it. I hope it makes Atlanta a little happier, funkier place to live.

This article appears in our November 2019 issue.