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

Hi all,
I'm a bit of a bystander on this topic, but have been tracking the
topic for a few years now. I want to jump in and challenge you all to
move the dialogue past a re-tread of the generic or well worn
metaphors....For example, could you talk some about the recent issue
of ID magazine if you've seen it?
Sorry, seems the website isn't up to date, but the current issue is
devoted to students, esp those involved with wearable tech. In short,
I'm curious what are your thoughts about the different strategies
described from functionally driven to more expressive pieces. What are
the criteria, across this spectrum, for evaluating a piece's success?

For example, Alison Lewis was a thesis student of mine and really
brought to my attention the redundancy of "discovery" in this field or
as Katherine pointed out that prevailing metaphors (skin, cyborg, etc)
might be preventing more depth of exploration. I'm very impressed by
Kaho Abe's work for example. Kaho's thesis basically brought up this
friction at Parsons between invention and application. Her seemingly
simple switches and controls were brilliant and in hindsight seemingly
obvious. The "problem" many stated while reviewing her work was, "how
do you plan to apply these", to which I think she struggled for
salient proposals. I say struggled, because her switches and controls
can so easily be seen as becoming ubiquitous that any attempt to
pinpoint or find fitness with particular applications as a way to
defend the invention seemed irrelevant. Throughout history there are
examples where the proposed application for a new technology was way
off the mark and we giggle at the idea that PC's would be used
primarily to hold recipes.

I think many wearable projects suffer because too much is trying to be
solved to the point that we are being invited to strap on Rube
Goldberg-like attire. If not a scope challenge, there seems to be a
lack of audience definition or research. If not that, then maybe its a
problem of presentation. Because there seems to be a drive for polish,
many projects that are really just in research stages appear to be
aimed at retail buyers. Why have fashion shows become the prevailing
mode of presentation vs. demo days in the aisles of your nearest big
box retailer? I guess fashion shows are sexier, but they are also for
an elite audience. I imagine you've seen those tabloid photos of some
unfortunate non-celeb who dared to wear a Gaultier, Galliano, McQueen
or Kawakubo(her F/W 05 brides!!) piece. Anyway, I do enjoy fashion,
but wonder sometimes about how it fits or supports your efforts. You
don't see Steve Mann on the runway! ha ha. Lest I digress...

Katherine had asked Floyd I think to respond about his research
methods/findings. It seems to me his project, while potentially
rewarding, failed to meet its goals in large part because his intended
audience said they'd never use it! That shocked me. Aren't people
using the basic user-centered design process? It seems a too easy
excuse to say it's expressive therefore audience adoption isn't an
issue. I've seen so many projects taking on the expression over a
distance problem (maybe it's a rite of passage?) but few seem to
demonstrate user-centered research or ethnographic studies or anything
that led me to believe that they had defined an audience of potential
users who expressed such an absence over distance and concurred that a
wearable might be able to address their desires and needs.

Apologies if I've succumbed to my own concerns for redundancy and
these questions are stale. Which leads to my last question. Is there
are an organization or more centralized place one might go to in order
to learn what's already been asked and addressed? If not, why not? Is
it because this discipline is melding into others like game designers
and theatre are merging ( Or the opposite,
it's splitting into different camps...?

Thanks for your time.

On 8/25/05, Katherine Moriwaki <> wrote:
> 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.
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum

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