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The Case for Wearable Tech

Kyle A. Turner
06.16.16
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Image courtesy Project Jacquard

Google and Levi's are in development for a smart fashion collaboration they are calling "Project Jacquard." According to Levi's blog:

"The goal of Google's Project Jacquard is to confront the historical limitations of wearable technologies by decoupling the touch interface from the digital device. Jacquard makes garments interactive — simple gestures like tapping or swiping send a wireless signal to the wearer's mobile device and activate functionality, such as silencing phone calls or sending a text message."

This is now what reality looks like. The advancement of "smart fashion" -- apparel that is imbued with technology, ostensibly to make your life much, much easier – brings new implications to the way that we interact with not only with the world, but with ourselves. But, as wearable tech becomes the standard, is it actually making our lives easier or will this smart fashion revolution lead to even more information paralysis?

Early examples of wearable tech are mostly confined to the gaudy, ostentatious outfits found on red carpets in the early 2010's. Famously, Katy Perry wore an LED-infused gown to the Met Ball back in 2010. The gown, created by London-based firm CuteCircuit, could change color from blue to pink to yellow to green. At the time, the dress garnered plenty of press, but the implications ran far deeper. A new frontier of technology and fashion had been broken into and now the world could see what was possible when the two formed a bond.

CuteCircuit's foray into wearable tech pre-dated this event; Founder Francesca Rosella created the KineticDress in 2004. Depending on the amount and speed of the wearer's movement the electroluminescent embroidery in the dress changes patterns, displaying the wearer's mood to the audience and creating a magic halo around her. This dress, quite literally, allows the wearer to showcase their heart on their sleeve.

As time passed, the Internet allowed us ever-increasing access to information and news about the world that was either inaccessible or difficult to find. Once mobile devices became smart, this information was now with you at all times. This coupled with advances in social media made stats about your social circles a form of emotional currency. 10 years from CuteCircuit's first kinetic dress, the very first Fitbit and Nike Fuelband were released. Our culture was already transitioning into a data-driven one and it seemed that the next logical step from codifying our social lives was to parse and consume data about our wellness habits.

It's 2016, now and the Fuelband has fallen by the wayside as the Fitbit continues an upward charge. I'm actually wearing one right now and I'm becoming more addicted to the information I have available to me: heart rate, steps, flights of stairs, calories burned, I have it all. Humans are not wont to be satisfied with simply scratching the surface of what's possible. Now, people like Pauline van Dongen are teaming with scientists to design clothes with solar panels integrated into them, so that you can charge your phone on the go without searching for a charger. Our sex lives are not off limits, either. Fashion-tech designer Anouk Wipprecht created a line of dresses called "intimacy," made of opaque, smart e-foils that become transparent when the wearer gets close to another person.

Having this much technology woven into our lives can seem scary, but the positives outweigh the negatives. How far are we from being able to predict things like heart attacks, strokes, even cancer, just by wearing a wristband or the right belt? Sure, we might be on the precipice of a tech overload, but this doesn't have to be a negative thing. In fact, it isn't. Minutiae like this can seem overwhelming, but it's advancements like these that have allowed us, as a culture, to appreciate the fragility of our bodies and take the steps necessary to live our healthiest and most productive lives.

Statistics and data are more accessible than ever. The more information we have, the more we want. In the case of wearable tech, we are given the ability to adapt more readily to our surroundings or change our own habits for maximum benefit. This micro-data offers a level of security for us. We feel like we have more control over our lives if we can whittle our day-to-day down to a few key numbers. Not getting enough steps in? Maybe you take the long way from work. A little too cold in your office? No worries. Your shirt can adjust so that you feel more comfortable. The sense of knowing oneself better just by wearing a shirt is an exciting feeling and since flying cars haven't shown up quite yet (though we might not be too far off from that), I'm happy to take a jacket that charges my phone as a consolation.

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