Sep 102011
 

Welcome to Fashioning Circuits, a public Humanities project related to Fashion and Emerging Media.

Photo "electronic led light dress at the museum of science and industry in chicago" by Flickr user David Hilowitz

Photo “electronic led light dress at the museum of science and industry in chicago” by Flickr user David Hilowitz

Fashioning Circuits was launched in September 2011 as part of a series of independent studies in the graduate program in Emerging Media and Communication (EMAC) at the University of Texas, Dallas. The goal of the project is twofold: to explore the ways in which fashion and emerging media intersect and to work with community partners to introduce beginners to making and coding through wearable media. In Fashioning Circuits “fashion” functions not just as a noun to describe cultural trends, but also as a verb, “to fashion,” to indicate the experiential and problem based learning strategies of the project as well as the potential for a diverse range of students to fashion themselves as members of the publics and counterpublics of the future.

This blog is one of the ways in which the work of the project is articulated. The blog content includes

  • Coursework – resources from university courses, both independent study and formal classes.
  • Emerging Media – examples and analysis of blogs, social media, mobile applications, etc. as they pertain to fashion.
  • High Fashion – information and analysis of haute couture and runway iterations of wearable media.
  • History – historical impact of science, technology, and media on fashion.
  • Identity – analysis of the impact of fashion and emerging media on identity, including raced, classed, gendered, differently abled and sexualized bodies.
  • Project News – information about Fashioning Circuits activities and press coverage of the project
  • Representations – representations of fashion in media, including art, media, games, social avatars, etc.
  • Wearables – analysis of developments in wearable media, smart textiles, etc.
  • Workshop – descriptions of wearable media projects and detailed tutorials.

Aside from the blog archive, the editorial team is also active on Twitter. Search for the hashtag #fashioningcircuits to see all of the interesting resources we are finding and sharing.

If you would like to work with us on planning a community event, please contact kim.knight@utdallas.edu  If you would like to volunteer your time at one of our community events, please join our Facebook planning group at http://facebook.com/groups/fashioningcircuits

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Nov 222014
 

The Metamorphosis line from Younghui Kim is a clothing line that detects alcohol levels in its wearers. A female dress responds to the wearer’s level of alcohol consumption through the use of colorful lights and expanding sleeves, while a male’s blazer responds by an expanding collar that slides out to cover the wearer’s face.

The project is meant to express the impact alcohol has on a person’s self-esteem, and was specifically focused on the role of drinking in Korean society. The interesting point of the project is the grounds for its creation. When first exposed to an article on Bustle, the title “A Dress that Detects when You’re Drunk? Younghuo Kim’s Wearable Tech will Draw Attention to the Fact that you’re Sloshed” I was left with the initial impression that the project was intended to act as a deterrent to over indulgence. After further reading, I have come to the realization that it is not technology meant to support sobriety, but rather as commentary on the way in which drinkers interact, and are perceived in social situations.

Apparently, social drinking in Korea is viewed as an outlet for honesty, and Kim’s website absurdee.com notes that “with formality deeply set in society, people are often shy to express what they really think soberly” (Kim, 2014). I find this interesting because it raises the question as to how a person should interpret the opinion of another. It almost seems that Kim is suggesting that the views of a person who has been drinking should carry more weight than those of someone who has not. While it is often said in vino veritas, people in western society are often heard explaining their actions by blaming alcohol. I have heard “I had been drinking” when responding to questions about a late-night conversation from the night before. It is not to say that there is not truth in wine, but it is interesting to note the social differences surrounding the conversation of honesty and alcohol. Would a project such as Kim’s have any impact on the perception of a person’s words, or even more importantly, should it?

It seems that in fashion, it is not uncommon to see someone wearing a particular item because of the statement it is making. One could wonder what the statement an item from the Metamorphosis project is making. In western culture, would it be viewed as an excuse? In Korea, would it be seen as a reason to pay extra attention to the wearer’s words and actions, because they are in fact being honest? It is also interesting to note that the female’s version of this project draws attention to the wearer, but the male’s blazer is designed to hide the wearer’s face. It is almost as if Kim is saying that when drinking a female is empowered, yet when a man drinks the best course of action is to keep his mouth shut and hide from the public. While this may not be the actual intent of the project, it is reminiscent of the points made by Joanne Entwistle in “Fashion and Gender.” Entwistle notes that in fashion “clothing does more than simply draw attention to the body and emphasize bodily signs of difference. It works to imbue the body with significance, adding layers of cultural meanings” (Entwistle, 2000). In the case of the Metamorphosis project, this seems to be taken to an entirely new level. It is not just the appearance of the articles of clothing, but it is the way in which these articles interact with the wearer. Would a woman who identifies as male require the same response from the item, or would she be exempted from “hiding” because she is a woman? Would a man who identifies as female be empowered by the influence of alcohol on his self-esteem?

One cannot argue that the project is interesting, but does seem to be ambiguous as to its intent. At first glance Kim seems to be making a statement in regards to the relationship between social interaction and alcohol consumption, but after a closer look there seems to be a not so subtle commentary on gender roles in social situations. The social implications of the project could be immense, but it also seems likely that the message from the item could easily be unclear. The technology seems far more likely to be relevant if gender is taken out of the equation, and the same response is generated no matter the sex of the wearer. Metamorphosis should simply provide the visual signal, and leave the interpretation of the situation up to the observer.

References

Entwistle, J. (2000). Fashion and Gender. In The fashioned body: Fashion, dress, and modern social theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.

abdurdee.com

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Nov 192014
 

By: Jade Lawson

Fitness trackers have some new competition and the future of popular fitness bands is changing.

The OMsignal biometric smartwear is breaking ground on a new, unexplored, area of fitness wear that allows users to measure heart rate, breathing rate, breathing depth, activity intensity, steps taken, calories burned, and heart rate variability. Measurement of these areas is possible in some of today’s top fitness bands and smartwatches, but these new shirts allow for a wider range of usage than just fitness or light daily activity. Popular fitness tracking bands like Fitbit Flex and Jawbone Up24 are only capable of measuring steps taken and activity intensity. These tracking bands can only estimate calories burned based on the wearer’s personal data of height, weight, and age. Fitbit Flex and Jawbone Up24 are sometimes marketed as being for day-to-day use, but they are most effective with high activity levels. The company Fitbit is aware that the market is changing, so they have just released information on their latest fitness trackers to be available early 2015 and they will be competing with OMsignal’s womens line. The Fitbit Charge is available now and the other 2 new Fitbit bands now include measurement of heart rate. However, OMsignal shirts are better fitted for use in daily lives and health testing because they have more health monitoring variables such as breathing rate/depth and heart rate variability. While these shirts aren’t meant to replace a visit to the doctor, they do take self-health monitoring a step further. They are a great tool in the ever-growing future of self-tracking, and personal health awareness.

Tracking Module

How does it work? The biometric sensors that take in all the rates, activity, calories burned, and heart rate are in the shirt but, the shirt itself doesn’t send the data to the application. In order to send the biometric sensor data from the shirt to the user’s phone application the user must purchase a data module. This data module does most of the work; it uses continual data collection to record data even when the user is away from their phone. Continual data collection means users can be phone free when working out and still receive all their workout statistics later. The data module uses low-power Bluetooth LE to send the data to an OMsignal application, which limits use to iPhones 4s and newer, and androids with low-power Bluetooth LE capability. Currently the app is only available for iOS, but there are plans for operating system expansion in 2015.

Common concerns with technological wearables are waterproofing, battery life, and data protection. The shirts can be washed in a machine just like any other fitness shirt, but the data module isn’t waterproof. The data module sits connected in a pocket in the shirt and can be removed for wash or can be transferred to another shirt. While the data module is water-resistant (meaning it’s sweat-proof and capable of handling a light rain) it cannot function when immersed in water. The data module’s battery can last through 30 1-hour long workouts, or 2-3 days of continuous use. It is not as long of a continuous usage time as wrist wearables like Fitbit Flex, and Jawbone Up24, but the Data Module also conveys more biometric data variables. The data that is taken in by the module is recorded and stored on a secure server. The data is associated with the user’s account so in the event of the app being deleted, or user’s phone upgraded, it stays secure and is transferable.

Apps can sometimes make or break a product, especially when it relies heavily on the app’s functionality, design, and ease of use.  OMsignal’s app design and functionality looks good, and seems like it will lift the product up, rather than bring it down. Omsignal describes their app best, “Prescriptive notifications assist post-training recovery by monitoring how your body behaves over time, with access to key data including heart rate recovery and breathing at rest, to monitor improvements in health and fitness. Lifestyle mode monitors your body’s energy, physical stress and activity levels, offering continuous insights throughout the day, allowing you to live a more balanced and focused life.”

The shirts are currently available for pre-order, and are to be shipped out starting November 24, 2014. They promote the starter or “up & running kit,” which usually costs $240. It is currently on sale for $199 for a limited time and includes 1 standard OMsignal shirt and a data module. There are a few other, more expensive, kits that include more than one shirt, as well as their lifestyle line. Sizing is from extra small to extra large, and can be worn under additional clothing.

Black-GreenShirts that are meant for working out are fitted a certain way to improve blood circulation, enhance performance, and help muscles recover faster. Shirts that are meant for lifestyle are shaped and fitted to help posture. All Omsignal shirts have climate control and moisture wicking. They are made of anti-microbial material and fight-odor causing bacteria which eliminates “after-workout smell.”

It doesn’t go unnoticed that there are no women featured wearing the product on the website, nor are there women’s shirts listed on the product page. At the bottom of the home page is an email input to receive information on the women’s collection. A collection that OMsignal plans to release in 2015. It begs the question though, did they think men’s shirts were more important to get done first, were they easier, or was it just the way they went about design? There are quite a few women on the OMsignal team, so the delay in the women’s collection shouldn’t be considered male bias, but it’s been shown that when it comes to things that are considered “strong” and “manly,” like fitness, men’s products take priority. OMsignal has said “The sensors of the OMsignal shirt need to be worn directly on the skin to give the best readings and we are currently working on a female design that fits a women’s body perfectly.” OMsignal displays the women’s shirt in their promotional video seen below. The advantages displayed are focused less on those available to the men’s shirt in relation to activity and more focused on lifestyle. Lifestyle that includes pregnancy monitoring with an ability to observe an unborn baby’s heart rate separately from the mother’s heart rate.

A lot of work went into the creation of these shirts; they weren’t made by one person with an idea, but by a team. A team of 34 unique individuals ranging from smart textile and marketing specialists, to BioE scientists and engineers, software developers and engineers, and most importantly, a chief medical officer. It is important to note the type of people involved in the making of this product because it shows that it has a high chance for success and support down the road.  Many years of research and testing got the OMsignal biometric smartwear to this stage, and plenty more research and testing will advance it even more in the future.

All supporting information taken from OMsignal.com

Images credit: OMsignal.com

Videos credit: Youtube.com/OMsignalTV

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Nov 192014
 

By: Justin Ozuna

If you could protect yourself against cancer, would you? It turns out, in some instances, you can.

More than 90 percent of skin cancer diagnoses are a result of excessive ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure from the sun and tanning beds, making it one of the most preventable of all existing cancers. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, approximately 3.5 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year; more than breast, lung, prostate and colon cancers combined. Globally, it accounts for approximately 40 percent of all cancers and causes 80,000 deaths a year, a trend that has increased nearly 60 percent over the past two decades and continues to rise.

Until recently, skin cancer prevention meant the use of sunscreen, sun-protective clothing and a reliance on public awareness. The June bracelet by Netatmo wants to change that.

Karyne Levy/Business Insider

June bracelet photo credit: Karyne Levy/Business Insider

The bracelet is the first UV-awareness device of its kind. Within its attractive, centerpiece jewel is a sensor that measures and communicates UV ray exposure. The June bracelet uses its corresponding iPhone app to offer real-time, sun protection advice like what level of SPF sunscreen to use, when to reapply sunscreen throughout the day and when to wear hat or sunglass protection, all based on the user’s skin profile. It’s like having a personal health navigator on your wrist, one that’s fashionably chic.

June jewels photo credit: Netatmo.com

The bracelet was designed by French jewelry designer Camille Toupet, who gave it a high-end aesthetic to supplement its technological feel. The $99 jewel bracelet (or brooch) is available in three colors: platinum, gold and gunmetal. The jewel is interchangeable and can be attached to a double-stranded leather or silicon bracelet based on the wearer’s needs.

Like every piece of technology, the bracelet does have its limits. The app is only available on the iOS operating system, limiting the product’s availability to those who have an iDevice. Secondly, the UV sensor is not waterproof, which is a problem if you’re around water for most of the day (when, let’s face it, most people need sun advice the most).

But the most glaring and disappointing issue with the June bracelet is that its design reinforces gender bias. Its dainty, elegant and to borrow a headline description from Mashable, “gorgeous” design in only available for women. Without context, this decision signifies that only women are beholden to prolonged sun exposure or frequent tanning sessions and really misses the heart of the bracelet’s sole purpose – to inspire immediate, real-time awareness about the short and long-term dangers of UV rays on the skin, for everyone.

Worldwide skin cancer data suggests that men need skin protection just as much as women do, especially when considering the gender disparity statistics of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. While young men only account for 40 percent of melanoma diagnoses, they represent more than 60 percent of melanoma deaths. From ages 15 to 39, men are 55 percent more likely to die of melanoma than women in the same age group. Effective skin cancer prevention isn’t only about creating awareness, it’s about creating awareness sooner.

Despite its novel and unique approach to skin awareness, the company missed a great opportunity to offer more to the world than a dainty, beautifully-designed bracelet.

Photo credit: Netatmo.com

The June app works in coordination with the bracelet to provide the wearer with push notifications when UV exposure reaches a critical level.

 

 

 

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Nov 172014
 

By: Carion Jackson

Spoonflower logo

Spoonflower.com

Ever been to a store and saw something that would be great for your house only to find that the design wasn’t available in the color you needed? One couple figured out a solution to this problem and created a community that has people around the world clambering to it like free food, or in this case, free fabric.

Spoonflower is a digital textile printing company founded in 2008 by Stephen and Kim Fraser after Kim was unable to find a specific pattern she needed for curtains for their home. According to the video on Spoonflower’s YouTube channel, Kim approached Stephen and said “It would be really cool if I could design my own fabric for curtains”. Stephen, being supportive of his wife, found a way to make her dreams a reality. They went on to create a service that allows you —the user—to create and print any wallpaper, fabric, or wrapping paper you want. In addition, they pay designers a portion of the profit they make from the designs, which encourages independent designers. All you have to do is upload an image for the pattern you want, choose to center or repeat it, then have it printed.

Fabric printer at Spoonflower

Photo by Julie Schneider via Etsy

There are several great things that can be said about Spoonflower. I commend the Frasers’ ability to create something that puts the power of creation back into the buyer’s hands. With that being said, there are several things that should be reevaluated, such as the company’s Terms of Service. Users are allowed to upload any image and claim ownership simply by clicking the box that says, “I own the rights to this image,” but the actual owner of the content has to go through six steps to prove that copyright infringement has occurred.

Rolls of Spoonflower wrapping paper

Photo by Julie Schneider via Etsy

My issue with this is if Spoonflower puts users through the same six steps it puts designers claiming their designs were stolen, there wouldn’t be an issue of ownership. By accepting the images, selling the images, and paying the user that uploaded the images, Spoonflower takes on the role of “owner” but dodges the responsibility of copyright infringement, leaving the user to take the blame. In short, Spoonflower is in many ways like Craigslist. You create an account and produce and sell content at your own risk.

 

 

Sources:

Arnold, Rebecca. Fashion: A Very Short Introduction Ch. 5 (Ethics)

Creatives at Work

Spoonflower Emerging Designer Grant Pinterest

What is Spoonflower? (YouTube)

Spoonflower website (About)

Behind the Scenes at Spoonflower

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Nov 172014
 

The Sync shirt is designed to amplify the VJ’s presence on stage as he/she performs for the crowd. The shirt rhythmically pluses with the beat of the songs, drawing attention to the VJ. Sync enables the performer a greater range of self-expression through the display on the entertainer’s clothing, thereby bringing more of the artist’s persona out in the piece. As Bradley Quinn states, “cyberspace, as a realm of intersecting practices, presents designers with a forum where fashion can be represented digitally or shown on an interactive platform”.  The Sync bridges the gap between performance, fashion, and interactivity.

Sync-Crated-Botfactory-1By making the Sync a piece of clothing, the creator uses the world of fashion to make a statement about music. Music is in a state of constant flux and, as each piece of music is played, so is the Sync. As the shirt flashes rhythmically with the music, the performer becomes a musical means by which to analyze fashion. Simultaneously, the Sync acts as an instrument in the analysis of music by displaying the rhythmic characteristics on the front of the shirt.

Aspects of interactivity with the shirt allow the VJ to fold the Sync into the performance, by choosing various beats to affect the image on the shirt. The performer’s interactivity with the audience is assisted by the Sync and the rhythmic flashing that draws attention to the VJ. The aspects of creativity and interaction bring this shirt into the realm of digital art as the mixture of many art forms to express the self in a unique way.

Originality of expression seems to be something that is becoming ever more elusive, so digital and wearable technologies have become the new way to express one’s self. Sync becomes a format for the expression of the self within the mediums of music, fashion, and digital technologies. It creates self-expression by making and placing the individual into the roles of performer, creator, and inventor. Therefore, Sync becomes a representation of the power of creation and performance.

The use of technology and fashion coordinated in the Sync allow the wearer to perform his or her art while being part of that art themselves. It not only allows the videos displayed to communicate a message, but the VJ, and more particularly the VJ’s clothing convey a message as well. The sensors within the shirt are programmed to flash with the music, thereby coalescing the display and the performer.

Sources:

Quinn, Bradley. “Cybercouture” in Techno Fashion 77 – 96 (20 pps)

http://www.psfk.com/2014/08/vj-shit-led-sign-background-music.html

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Nov 172014
 

Post by: Nilufer Arsala

undercover colors

Photo credit:http://www.undercovercolors.com/

“Undercover Colors” is a brand of nail polish that was developed by four North Carolina State University undergrads. According to the Washington Post  the brand’s premise is nail polish that changes color when it detects date rape drugs, mainly Rohypnol, Xanax and GHB. The product isn’t on the market yet and there doesn’t seem to be any word on a release date for sale to the public. The company’s website shows a logo and slogan along with links to Undercover Colors’ social media pages, email and research donation fund.  A quick look at Undercover Colors’ Facebook page reveals a bit more of the happenings behind the scenes, with reference to the product in the research and development phase.

“Thank you for your interest in our company! At this point, we are early in the development of our product and we do not have any photos of the nail polish. However, we were planning on doing a media push in the not-too-distant future, once we have a demonstrable prototype." - Undercover Colors Representative Mock up and quote from: SlashGear- 8/22/2014
“Thank you for your interest in our company! At this point, we are early in the development of our product and we do not have any photos of the nail polish. However, we were planning on doing a media push in the not-too-distant future, once we have a demonstrable prototype.” – Undercover Colors Representative
Mock up and quote from: SlashGear- 8/22/2014

Since the product is still in research and development, there’s little information at the time of this posting about some aspects of the polish. What colors the polish will come in and how much it will cost don’t seem to be addressed by the company, suggesting Undercover Colors hasn’t progressed that far. Some controversy also surrounds this product.

Undercover Colors’ slogan , located on the company’s website is “The First Fashion Company Empowering Women to Prevent Sexual Assault.” In a way, the company does that. By swirling a polished fingernail in her glass, a woman can tell if her drink contains drugs commonly used by perpetrators of date rape. It has been pointed out that this product actually adds to rape culture by placing responsibility back on the woman to keep herself safe, as opposed to teaching men not to rape.  Also, the polish only reacts when coming into contact with certain drugs. The limited number of drug reactions could give women a false sense of security when screening drinks.

Photo credit: Feministing.com

Photo credit: Feministing.com

As a fashion accessory, this nail polish does what normal polish does. It adds to someone’s personal definition of “cool” as discussed in Luke Russell’s Effortless Cool. As a safety mechanism Undercover Colors seems to fall short. It is a daunting task to toe-the-line between perpetuating rape culture and trying to help women protect themselves from violence. The male college students that created this product could use a bit more education on the topic of date rape. Overall they seem to forget that date rape doesn’t just happen at bars or under the effects of drugs.

Links:
https://www.k-state.edu/media/webzine/Didyouhearyes/daterapefacts.html
http://www.undercovercolors.com/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sophia-kerby/what-undercover-colors-gets-all-wrong-about-date-rape_b_5722724.html
http://www.newsweek.com/controversy-over-nail-varnish-date-rape-drug-detector-267126
https://www.facebook.com/undercovercolors/info?tab=page_info
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/26/students-develop-nail-polish-to-detect-date-rape-drugs/

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Nov 162014
 

With the popularity of wearable fitness devices, it has become common to see everyday consumers using devices to monitor their health and activity. Devices such as the fitbit flex  track activity such as steps, distance, calories burned, and sleep. These measurements have become fairly common today, but in comparison to the availability of fitness tracking technology twenty years ago, the growth in the industry is noticeable. Now the advancements in wearable technology are on the cusp of providing data tracking for vital signs that were previously only available in a hospital setting.

A new device called Muse uses sensors worn on the head to measure brain signals using Electroencephalography (EEG) science. The device is marketed as a tool that a user can use to train their brain in an effort to reduce stress, improve focus, and increase concentration.

According to the website, “Muse detects your brain signals during a focused attention exercise the same way a heart rate monitor detects your heart rate during physical exercise.” The device has 7 sensors to detect and measure brain activity, and then processes and exports this data into graphs and charts on the users mobile device. The data is then used to allow the user to train their brain using “focused attention training,” in a way that the company relates to being the “mental equivalent of a treadmill.”

Focused attention training is explained as an exercise that monitors how a user responds to distractions, and audible feedback. The examples below are diagrams of how a person’s mind tends to wander, and how using Muse could improve mental focus:

brainTraining_attn_loop_A-1brainTraining_attn_loop_B-1

Images  via ChooseMuse.com

The user wears the device during “exercise” and the device translates brain signals into the sounds of wind. When the user’s mind is calm and settled, they hear a calm and settled breeze, but when the user’s brain is active (distracted) the winds will pick up and blow. When a user is able to maintain a level of calm for an extended period of time, bird sounds will be introduced to announce that the mind is calm. The bird sounds will add an additional opportunity to monitor their progress because it requires the user to react to the additional stimulation, and respond in a manner that does not give in to additional distractions. This will hopefully allow the user to develop control over their mind, which they can then apply to distractions when not wearing the device.

Muse is based on research that has shown that focused attention training has been shown to reduce pain, reduce anxiety, improve mood, and reduce heart rate. Prolonged sessions have been documented to suggest other benefits, such as increased grey matter density, reduced thinning of the prefrontal cortex, decreasing amygdala activity (associated with stress response), and increased resilience and immune function – which basically suggests an overall positive change of the brain’s structure and function. The health implications of devices such as Muse have been largely discussed, and in “Vital Signs,” Bradley Quinn notes the potential for sensoring technology within healthcare, and provides a variety of examples that show the positive impact of wearable technology that is already available. Quinn points out the possibility of wearable technology detecting, and stopping, an episode in patients susceptible to strokes, or liable to have seizures, and it would seem that technology such as Muse could be adapted to perform similar tasks. While Muse is not an approved form of treatment for neurological disorders, it does suggest that there is a developing market for wearable technology within the realm of personal health. Devices such as Muse could lead to wearable technology that could increase the quality of life for many individuals who live with a variety of medical conditions.

SOURCES:

http://www.choosemuse.com

Quinn, Bradley. “Vital Signs.” Textile Futures: Fashion, Design and Technology. Oxford: Berg, 2010. 85-107.

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Nov 162014
 

Academic Malcom Barnard begins his article “Etymologies and Definitions of Fashion and Clothing” with the definition of etymology, and then goes on to take a look at the various meanings of the word fashion. Through this scrutiny, Barnard offers value to the reader that other academics would, perhaps, miss. As wearable technology occupies a greater portion of the public’s mind share, it need also fall under greater scrutiny. Evgeny Morozov’s 2013 book, To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, provides a starting point for such a critique. In an interview with the Economist, Morozov defines Solutionism as the, “…shallow and simplistic attitude towards defining problems as problems.” More specifically, technology becomes a quick and easy means to resolving complex problems. In doing so, the application of technology oversimplifies a problem to the point of obscuring the issue at hand.

BodyGuard Blanket via Protecht

One example of this is Protecht BodyGuard Blanket. The company attempts to solve the problem of school shootings by offering a bullet resistant blanket. Protecht cites the increasing number of school shootings, and claim that the situation will only get worse. They also highlight the ineffective results of previous attempts to address the same problem. In the face of a serious issue that seems deadlocked, the BodyGuard Blanket is a simple and relatively inexpensive solution that can be implemented immediately. Leaving aside the emotional blackmail of the “think of the children” argument, gun control is an issue that strikes at the heart of the American identity. As the second most important freedom to the founding fathers, the Bill of Rights specifically grants the right to bear arms. Any question of protecting or limiting this right should be left to policy makers enacting the will of the people rather than  a small technology company. Morozov opines, “As our technological infrastructure gets better, as it becomes easier to offload some of the problem solving from governments and agencies to citizens, they will no longer be presented as two equal alternatives. We will be relying on private means of problem solving through apps, and they will introduce a different kind of politics. A different kind of scale of politics”

If society turns to companies like Protecht to solve divisive questions such as gun control, then the problem will be portrayed as much simpler than it truly is. Products like the BodyGuard Blanket leave little to no room for nuance. Protecht, like all corporations, is looking to maximize their profits. Thus, they offer a product which aims to appeal to gun advocates and those who do not want to see another tragic outcome from the misuse of guns. When problems are painted in such broad strokes, it becomes harder to think critically. Because of this, Solutionism in the form of the BodyGuard Blanket does not address gun rights at all. The fundamental questions that loomed before society still remain; they are now reframed in such a way that society believes that they are no longer problems. More broadly, what are the consequences when society seeks solutions for public problems by private means? For all of its flaws, government is not constrained by shareholder pressure to maximize profits. Instead, government does not have to justify their decisions on return on investment; rather, they can pursue actions based on the public good. Our rights and responsibilities should exist because of public discourse and the legal process, not because some product was developed in light of Solutionism.

 

Sources:

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Nov 112014
 
Thunderball used the real life "Bell Rocket Belt," a hydrogen peroxide powered jetpack.

Thunderball used the real life “Bell Rocket Belt,” a hydrogen peroxide powered jetpack.

Jetpacks. Not only cool, but also an originally sci-fi concept that actually exists. The word normally invokes visions of adventurous self-propelled flyers, like in the 1965 James Bond feature film Thunderball. “What goes up must come down,” is an applicable cliché. Functional jetpacks average a flight time of about 20 seconds, but what if flight wasn’t the point? If the cliché read, “What goes forward must go forward faster,” how would that affect this wearable device concept?

Enter Jason Kerestes of Arizona State University (ASU) and his 4MM (4 Minute Mile) project. He developed a prototype jetpack that allows the wearer to run faster than normal, potentially covering a mile in four minutes or less.

Kerestes explains his motivation for the 4MM jetpack.

Kerestes explains his motivation for the 4MM jetpack.

 

 Watch the 4MM Jetpack video:

http://researchmatters.asu.edu/videos/jetpack-helps-soldiers-run-faster

 

Kerestes is a graduate student working with ASU’s iProjects, a collaborative program between students and industry. The 4MM jetpack came about when the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) asked for a device to enhance a soldier’s battlefield performance. Battery operated thrusters attach to a military-rucksack frame and use air bursts to propel the runner forward. The prototype pack weighs 11.2 lbs, but allows the wearer to run faster while expending less energy despite the added weight.

4MM Jetpack prototype

4MM Jetpack prototype

The battlefield applications of physical augmentation are obvious. But would a standard infantry soldier use the 4MM jetpack? Probably not, it weighs too much. When wearing their combat gear (full battle rattle), 11.2 lbs is a lot to add on top of a load already averaging 70 lbs and up. In ASU’s video, Kerestes speaks in terms of Navy SEALS or Army soldiers (most likely Special Forces) who need to get in and out of target zones quickly.

A U.S. Army soldier wearing "full battle rattle."

A U.S. Army soldier wearing “full battle rattle.”

 

Of course, the 11.2 lbs applies to a prototype. A production model will undoubtedly weigh less.

 

Off the battlefield, what could be done with a 4MM jetpack? It would surely cause a controversy in the world of athletic competition.

In 2007, Oscar Pistorius was banned from competing against athletes without prosthetics. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) felt his limbs gave the “Blade Runner” an unfair advantage. Pistorius was eventually allowed to compete, but how would jetpacks be viewed? Most likely, the IAAF will exhibit less enthusiasm than the carbon-fiber “Flex-Foot Cheetah” legs Pistorius runs with.

Oscar Pistorius 2011

Oscar Pistorius 2011

On the other hand, devices like jetpacks could draw fans by making sports more “extreme” or allowing new games to evolve. How many Harry Potter fans would like to play “Quidditch” in the air?

4MM 200 meter time trial

4MM 200 meter time trial

Coming down another level, who wouldn’t enjoy feeling fleet of foot from jet propulsion? Commercially, companies could charge people for the experience of feeling like professional athlete.

Is the research investment worth it? Before DARPA asked for a device intended for combat, the 4MM researchers at ASU were working on prosthetics for amputees. Is it nobler to develop a potentially life saving device or a life changing device? DARPA could just as easily asked for better prosthetic limbs. That question may be argued at length and is a personal belief. The fact of the matter is: development will occur where the funding goes.

If the 4MM jetpack is successful, and if it finds life off the battlefield, what will the future of performance enhancing devices bring? With any luck, future wearable devices are even cooler than jetpacks.

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