Re: [-empyre-] clothing [and/as] technology

Hello Felix, empyreans:

At 06:23 21/08/2005, you wrote:
hi Heidi, Katherine Moriwaki, Floyd & empyreans,

just a few quick and maybe too loosely connected thoughts on wearables, clothing and technology.

at the same time as the whole debate about the fusion of clothing with technology (»high fashion colliding with high technology«, etc...) is fascinating, it unfortunately is likely to cover its own cultural history.
in the past, clothing had not been enhanced by [digital] technology but itself had been rather synonymous with technology. together with the development of language the use of materials to cover the human body (i.e. the naked animal life) had been the primary cultural operation by which man (indeed physically) established a border between himself and the animal world, hence becoming human at all.
interestingly enough, the german word for this "border" between the naked body and the environment "grenzflaeche" (grenze=border, flaeche=surface) translates as "interface" in english, which makes the quality of clothing-as-technology quite apparent.

Nice to touch upon this. Back in 2001 when I co-developed the course material for the Fashionable Technology collaboration studio at Parsons School of Design (with Sabine Seymour) these are issues I touched upon in some of the beginning lectures we held for students.

from this point of view, it becomes obvious that clothing/wearables fulfill several cultural tasks at the same time which even seemingly contradict each other. their function as a cover/shield/border for/of the human body "seamlessly" interacts with the one as a means of communicating/exposing the body to the outside world. fashion has largely understood this ambivalence (being the original concept of an interface) for a long time and basically works on this principle.

I tend to not see that there is contradiction, but that clothing operates as a juncture.

the idea that wearable technology is something that is rather hidden while at the same time used to communicate with the outside world is therefore found at the beginning of the development of wearable computers.
claude shannon and ed thorpe developed the first wearable computer in 1961-66 in order to "predict" roulette wheels, i.e. cheat casinos in las vegas. the computer (that was later famously labelled the "eudaemonic shoe computer" after the group of MIT-students called the "eudaemonics") was a small device hidden in the sole of a shoe. it was controlled by the movement of the toes and its feedback consisted of acoustic information via an almost invisible headphone connection.
anyway, before going too much into technical detail (i'm always trying to avoid that, but you can check out the links below for more info) i'd rather stop here.

I'm familiar with Thorpe and Shannon's work. This is also material we used to cover for our students in the Fashionable Technology course.

i guess when we are dealing with wearable computer technology and especially with those that is able to establish [physical] connections
between users we should be aware that clothing is way more than just a second skin (in fact it is (culturally) entirely different from skin and never a mere skin-extension). performing/transmitting data/language/touch/etc... through clothing as an interface therefore should imply a sense for the cultural function clothing inherits from the past.

Skin is merely one metaphor people tend to use when working with fashion and technology. It is a common one, but not the only one by any means. If anything, this is an issue within fashion and technology - how to get around the more obvious and simplistic sets of relations between our body, technology, and clothing. On the other hand, skin as a metaphor, and the concept of skin-extension continues to maintain appeal for a reason. It is at least one way in which people can easily understand one of the many functions we have for our clothes.

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