It is acknowledgeable that throughout human history, people have always recognized and maintained a sense of privacy. Nestled betwixt a plethora of issues facing this realization is the idea that there does not exist a single and precise definition of what exactly privacy constitutes. Dated research (circa 1881) presented an oversimplified yet often quoted idea that privacy was the “right to be let alone” (Craven Jr, 1979). It wasn’t until a few years later that the idea that privacy deserved legal protection began to circulate, spawning mass intellectual debates on the issue. Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis produced a highly influential essay in Harvard Law Review in 1890 that introduced the fundamental principle that “the individual shall have full protection in person and in property… it is our purpose to consider whether the existing law affords a principle which can properly be invoked to protect the privacy of the individual; and, if it does, what the nature and extent of such protection is” (p. 37). In American society, as well as other western cultures, one of the most clear cut and expected notions of privacy involves the ability to control exposure of one’s body (Konvitz, 1966). The author discusses how culturally we are made to believe that being naked is something to be seen as shameful (as passages from the bible give way to this), and we have a right to not be exposed without or consent. While this project doesn’t focus on the distribution of anything pertaining to a violation of someone’s right to maintain privacy of their naked body, it does touch on having a right to not be publicly displayed to others, whether it be in concern to their body, clothing, etc., within certain public or private spheres without their consent. In discussing video voyeurism, Lance Rothenberg said, “The failure of criminal law to recognize a legitimate expectation of privacy in the public space tacitly grants the video voyeur a license to act with impunity, and leaves victims with little or no recourse” (2011, p. 1146). Voyeurism in this case is the action of spying on persons engaged in intimate behavior, such as undressing or other sexual activity considered to be private nature.
By Kristen Taylor
Last week, an acquaintance of mine posted a status on Facebook that said the following: “Yep, you pretty much give up any personal boundaries when riding the tram– some awkward ear caressing and arm caressing happened today.” Several things struck me about her post: it’s extremely matter-of-fact; no one who witnessed this event attempted to stop it; and the post received likes, rather than outraged comments. No one actually seemed terribly surprised that she faced unwanted and “awkward ear caressing” and “hand grabbing” from a stranger. It seems like for many people (especially those who identify as women), physical harassment is just one of those things that you are expected to put up with to exist in public spaces or utilize services.
Enter the the Personal Space Dress. Designed by artist Kathleen McDermott, the dress utilizes wearable technology to expand when someone gets too close to you, therefore preserving your personal space.
While this technology could be utilized in a variety of other situations when one may want to preserve personal space (like for those on the Autism spectrum who dislike some physical contact) it’s clear from Ms. McDermott’s video of the dress that her vision was for use in crowded places like public transit, where proximity can create opportunity for unwanted sexual contact.
The dress works by using ultrasonic sensors to detect when someone (or something) is too close, which send an impulse that causes continuous motors to expand the dress outwards, like a hoop skirt. It shrinks back to its original size when the area is clear of the perceived threat.
Ms. McDermott notes on her website that this dress is not a product, but rather, an artwork meant to spark discussion. In a country where 65 percent of women are expected to experience public sexual harassment (via Stop Street Harassment), that’s always an admirable goal.
However, the design of this dress limits the conversation in several important ways. It’s pink. It’s frilly. It has more than a passing resemblance to a cupcake. None of these characteristics are inherently bad, but they do reinforce the narrative of feminine, cisgendered, heterosexual women as the only victims of sexual harassment. According to a report published by the organization Stop Street Harassment this year, 25 percent of men surveyed had experienced street harassment, and people of color, lower-income people, and people who identify as LGBT are all disproportionately affected. All people need to be safe in public spaces—not just those who embody traditional femininity and the discourse should reflect that.
The Personal Space Dress does unfortunately also remove the topic of consent from the discourse. Because it relies on “dumb” technology and cannot discern the difference between wanted and unwanted contact, the wearer is effectively cut off from any touch, even those enthusiastically consented to. It also puts the burden of responsibility on the wearer to protect themselves, rather than promoting a shift in culture that would render it useless. Once again, victims are expected to arm themselves against threats—hardly a revolutionary concept—and it’s easy to picture a society that blames all victims who don’t wear the Personal Space Dress for being harassed.
Related projects include a Tumblr blog called “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train (a lighthearted project that shows the ways in which men’s needs in public space are prioritized over women) and Stop Telling Women to Smile, an art series that addresses the impact of gender-based street harassment on its victims. Other projects in Ms. McDermott’s Urban Armor series include a veil that protects your identity from CCTV cameras and a robotic scarf that protects the wearer from pollution. While all three projects concentrate on ways that technology can protect the wearer, the Personal Space Dress is the only one that not only avoids unwanted situations, but addresses them head-on.
Throughout my first semester as an EMAC major, the topic of “value judgments” has somehow managed to come up in discussion at least once (often multiple times) within every course that I’ve enrolled in. A value judgment, in the context that I am referring, can be defined as “an estimate, usually subjective, of the worth, quality, goodness, evil, etc., of something or someone..” In other words, it is placing judgment upon something (or someone) that you really don’t know anything about, without regard for the point of view of others. This topic is one that I’ve always felt strongly about, and I’ve learned through multiple discussions at UTD that many other students feel the same way. But somehow, regardless of the fact that no one seems to agree with placing value judgments upon one another, people continue to do it anyway. It is almost as if it is an instinctual reaction.
So I decided to make a wearable media project that could somehow demonstrate how wrong these value judgments can be. The topic that I chose for these value judgments is music. Music is something that almost everyone can relate to on some level. Age, race, gender, culture, or geographic location does not affect whether or not someone listens to music or not. I personally have never met anyone in my lifetime that did not enjoy some form of music. My 82 year old Czechoslovakian grandmother sure does love her polka albums! But she also won’t hesitate to tell me that the music I listen to is just worthless noise. Value judgment alert!
Music stirs our emotions. That’s why we listen to it. But we’re all individuals who have led different lives and had different experiences. So it only makes sense that it will take different types of music to stir each unique individual’s emotions. This sounds simple and logical enough when you read it, right? But I’d be willing to bet that it wouldn’t take you more than a few moments to recall a time when someone you know (or maybe even you) has placed judgment on the music that someone else listens to, because it just sounds like “noise”, and for whatever reason, some people automatically deem anything that they do not like as worthless, without regard for the fact that it could be worth so much more to someone else.
You can read more about music and emotion here: http://www.psychologyofmusic.co.uk/mechanisms.html
So I’ve designed a jacket that visually displays the emotional value of music that is played in its vicinity. Deciding exactly how to gauge this value was difficult. My lack of medical training prevents me from plugging anything into the wearer’s brain for a completely accurate reading. And my financial restrictions kept me from being able to implement something simpler, like a heart monitor, to read emotional response. So I was limited to only implementing a microphone to “hear” the music, and I depended on information gathered by others about how the rhythm or beats of music affect the brain and how brain activity increases when musical stimuli becomes more intense (or loud). I then used symbolism to visually link these rhythmic brain responses to emotion with a sequence of electroluminescent wires that light up with the rhythm and intensity of music the microphone hears. This method worked well for me. I’m a writer, and somewhat of a literature buff, so I think the whole world revolves around symbolism anyway.
The most difficult challenge for me during construction was the interference from the inverter to the microphone. Electroluminescent wire only responds to an alternating current. But the microcontroller, an EL Sequencer, runs on a direct current. This requires a DC to AC inverter to provide power to the EL wires. This type of inverter generates a high pitched squealing noise. It is barely audible to the ear, but the microphone seemed to always pick it up. I even tried moving the inverter as far away from the mic as possible, but the amount of interference didn’t seem to change at all. So I believe that the interference is actually coming through the wiring in the circuit. I tried using different types of wire, as well, but this also did not help.
My last resort was to set a threshold in my code that told the EL wire not to light up unless it picks up sounds louder than the interference. This led to another problem, because the level of interference is spikey and irregular, and seems to be slightly different each time the inverter is turned on. If I set the threshold too high, the microphone and EL wires aren’t responsive enough to music. But if I set it too low, they seem to randomly respond and flicker for no reason. So I have to find the “sweet spot” to set the threshold to. And that sweet spot is likely to change the next time I turn the inverter on. So I end up having to change up my code a little bit with each use. After days upon days of troubleshooting, I never could find a way around that. I did, however, find a helpful fix for the minor spiking during use. I coded a counter that gathers several microphone readings per second, and the EL wires respond to the average output of those readings. This is helpful for averaging out the random interference spikes. (Credit: Harrison is the best TA ever!)
As for the overall design of the jacket, I made several choices based on symbolism and aesthetics. I chose a rainbow (ROYGBV) sequence for the EL wires. Rainbow is typically associated with happiness, and while not all music is happy, it does emotionally fulfill us in some way, and that makes us happy. I wrapped the wires around the chest because the heart is the part of the body that we generally link our emotions to. I decided having the wires on the outside of the jacket was too harsh on the eyes and not very visually appealing. So instead I decided to place them on the inside of the jacket, and chose white as the jacket’s color so that the light could shine through more easily. This also gives the appearance of a diffused internal glow, instead of a harsh outer one, which I thought to be more fitting for a symbolic representation of emotion.
In conclusion, my project was ultimately a success. I’d definitely be much happier with it if it didn’t need to be reconfigured before each use. But it works, and as someone who had literally zero coding OR sewing experience before Fashioning Circuits, that’s all I could possibly hope for.
Symbolic of the concerns rising in the United States over the NSA and flying surveillance cameras (or drones), artist Adam Harvey has created Stealth Wear: clothing that claims to conceal the wearer from drones, almost like a real life Invisibility Cloak.
Stealth Wear claims it can do this by utilizing a flexible, metallized fabric that uses fibers to reflect a human’s body heat and conceal his thermal signature. The metal in the fabric blocks the photos from being taken, as well.
Although the garments were originally created more as artistic pieces meant to create conversation over security and privacy in the public sphere, they are also being produced and sold to private individuals. There are three styles of the anti-drone Stealth Wear currently being produced: a hoodie (which actually only reaches the midriff), a scarf (meant to be a hijab), and a burqa.
However, the price points and styles of the pieces raise important considerations for this type of wearable technology—the hoodie is $350, the scarf is $450, and the burqa is $2,500. At this cost, only the wealthy will be the ones able to buy this technology—are their lives worth more?
These garments will be sold in a pop up museum shop like those mentioned in Fashion: A Very Short Introduction, and this type of shop suits this project perfectly due to its attention-grabbing nature and conversation-setting agenda.
The artist also said that he chose to design his Stealth Wear as a hijab and burqa because they act as a metaphor—just as the garments are seen by traditional wearers as “separation between man and God,” he designed the anti-drone versions to “provide separation between ‘man and drone.’” This cultural appropriation seems to make light of a garment significant to Islam, which reveals s a lot about Westerners designing for international audiences and about a lack of respect for sacred garments. Is this a political message or just a move to seem “edgy” and receive publicity? I would venture to say it’s more of the latter, which is something to really be aware of when recreating wearable tech.
As others have said, wearable technology won’t be wearable unless it’s fashionable; the overtly political and frankly, bizarre designs of the Stealth Wear render them both outlandish and impractical for popular consumption.
The artist said “Stealth Wear is (about) combining fashion with privacy, exploring how fashion can provide ways to adapt to a surveillance environment.” It’s easy to imagine a situation in which these items could become widely available and shift the conversation from “should we use drones?” to a victim-blaming attitude in which those surveilled are responsible for protecting themselves against searches, rather than focusing on governments changing their invasive policies.
Similar projects include the OFF Pocket (a phone sheath that prevents electromagnetic rays from transmitting data), CamoFlash (a clutch that uses LEDs to thwart attempts at flash photography of unwilling subjects) and Pixelhead (pixelated mask meant to confuse face-recognizing software). These projects clearly are meant to spark conversations about the intersections of privacy, surveillance and fashion in public space, and I’m interested to see what’s next.
Stealth Wear Aims to Make a Tech Statement
The Anti-Surveillance Clothing Line that Promises to Thwart Cell Tracking and Drones
Adam Harvey Launches Stealth Wear, an Anti-Drone Clothing Line
Coming up with an idea for the final project was a difficult task because making something that is easily wearable that also has social meaning is harder then it sounds. I went back and forth around the idea of body image and how you could some how show that with led’s on a piece of clothing but decided that it wasn’t obvious enough. I came to realization sometime a few hours before we presented Kim with our concepts that I should focus on mastectomy patients and how they may feel being uneven after having a mastectomy.
My dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer almost 2 years ago and has been through two battles fighting breast cancer. When they found the second cancerous tumor 6 months after her first battle was supposedly “over” they decided to do a mastectomy on her left breast. For a woman to go through losing a breast and a nipple is an extremely traumatic event for her self image. I decided to focus on making the light be a simple of what or how being uneven may feel like.
After deciding that I was going to do something revolving around this concept Kim and I had many discussions as to how to best convey this. We had some very fun concepts come out of our discussions but sadly time was an issue with getting the project completed. I would have loved to do both sides of the bra and make it very apparent that one side had a nipple and one did not. Kim also mentioned making one side blow up and one side not. I also thought about doing a light that was temperature sensitive since heat is a sign of cancer as well as part of radiation. These were all fantastic ideas but timing was an issue.
With the evolution of 3-d printing, functional fashion is due a radical awakening. I’m not talking about structural creations with which some of the well established fashion houses have begun to experiment. Within the next decade we should see the capability to print human tissue using a patient’s own stem cells, and eventually biomedical engineers will be able to grow replacement organs and limbs. For now, 3-d printing is finding a niche in artistic prosthetics.
When Bespoke Innovations started to gain momentum in 2010, industrial designer and co-founder Scott Summit drew on fashion trends, and design elements from luxury and sports cars, as well as motorcycles when assisting clients in designing their fairings for prosthetic limbs. A fairing goes over or attaches to an existing prosthesis in order to help regain limb symmetry. Once the desired dimensions are established using 3-d scanning and software, Bespoke Innovations uses 3-d printers to create each custom-made fairing.
While Bespoke Innovations can turn an existing prosthesis into a functional sculpture, veteran and architectural designer Collin MacDuff is just one of a number of people who were so dissatisfied with the lack of function in available prosthetics that he began tinkering on his own. MacDuff drew on 15 years of fabrication and welding experience to create his Biomechanical Prosthetic Finger (BFP), which mimics the natural flexion of the finger so that the prosthesis moves exactly the same way an existing digit does. One glance and industrial chic comes to mind, which is particularly fitting since MacDuff crafted the prototype from a bicycle handlebar.
For now the BPF is manually assembled but it represents a shift in self-agency when it comes thinking about prosthetics. Amputees need not rely on others when it comes to their own body aesthetic. All they need is access to 3-d scanning and modeling software, and a 3-d printer. Want to wear a brushed silver calve to your aunt’s Titanic themed wedding? No problem. How about a lighted pedicure to help you find your way to the front door without sloshing your new strappy sandals through any puddles? A little more tricky, but entirely manageable for about $50 with micro LEDs and an Arduino LilyPad from SparkFun.
In addition to pioneering biomechanics and fashion, the two aforementioned designers have also tapped into the empowering aspects of amputee subculture. Amputations are the result of frostbite from enduring the elements, competition in extreme sports, valorous combat far from loved ones, and long battles with significant illness. Even if an amputation is planned and brings some element of relief, it still requires the individual to graduate physical therapy and adjust to a new absence of the symmetry they’ve relied on their entire lives. Now, finally, we’re beginning to see individuality and innovation combined with form and function that opens an entirely new world—not just for amputees—but for everyone else who’ll soon have a window allowing us to visually connect prosthetics with the active and artistic trends of their users.
With the recent release of their hit Cider Cider, Japanese pop group Tempura Kidz erupted onto the international stage. Full disclosure: I can’t speak Japanese. Yet. So for the purpose of this post I’m approaching Cider Cider from a purely aesthetic angle as it relates to fashion, technology, and subculture.
Kid-friendly monsters are nothing new and it’s easy to see how Sully and a couple other characters from Monsters Inc might have inspired some of the costume elements. However, long before the Tempura Kidz, audiences watched a young Jennifer Connelly evade brilliant orange Fireys while they swapped body parts and sang David Bowie’s Chilly Down in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Go back even further, and anyone under 50 probably learned their ABCs from the long-cherished cast of Sesame Street.
But what makes the Tempura Kidz different and signals a burgeoning subculture is that, instead of making friends with monsters, they’ve become the monsters. Their costume headpiece proportions and face makeup draw subtle inspiration from Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are. Iridescent green and silver warts, as well as starkly contrasting mini poms, make up a dazzling array of warts. Each skirt is a mad plume of colors, spectacularly resurrecting DayGlo in all its twentieth century glory. And that’s before the lights go off.
While I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t directly incorporated into the fabric, the use of fluorescent lights are a critical element to the costumes. Rather than being set against a black background, the parallel fluorescent bulbs give a kind of aesthetic order and continuity to the performance. When the lights switch from unfiltered white fluorescent to ultraviolet we start to see that, far from being afraid of it, darkness is their territory. Look closer and you’ll even notice that the bandaids adorning their noses and knees are glowing, as though bumps and bruises inherent in childhood have transformed into decorations.
If you’re already familiar with some of the finer points of Japanese fashion for young people you may be able to guess where I’m going with this final bit. Drawing from a long tradition of theatrics and gender play, I can tell you one of the Tempura Kidz is not like the others. Monster subculture not only makes the night claimable territory for girls, it also makes a dress a safe place for a boy. You can google it if you really want to know which one. Or you can just hit replay, and agree that they’re all monsters, together.
The concept of the cyborg or techno-fashion is not a new one to Fashioning Circuits. Fashion that has the ability to extend the capabilities of the human body is a topic that I, for one, find particularly fascinating. It may surprise the FC reader, howeve,r to learn that there also exists another perhaps lower tech but no less integral component to techno-fashion, that is fashion that can compensate for physical deficiencies. Recent developments in the nascent techno-fashion industry have seen the proliferation of brands producing garments to not only enhance the human body but indeed to improve the quality of life for individuals afflicted with various physical deficiencies and impairments. Let’s take a look at some particularly inspiring innovators in this techno-fashion space.
The GPS Shoe for Tracking Alzheimers Patients
In 2011 US based GTX Corp introduced the GPS shoe, a walking shoe with a miniature GPS tracking device embedded in the heel. The inspiration for the shoe was originally spurred by a particularly tragic and high profile missing persons case in involving the disappearance of a young child. In fact GTX CEO Patrick Bertagna originally created the shoe as a means of tracking missing children. It wasn’t long, however, before Bertagna became aware of an even greater need for the shoe among adult caregivers of Alheimer’s sufferers to be able to non intrusively track the movements of their patients.
GPS tracking devices for Alzheimers’s patients were not in and of themselves a new idea, even in 2011. However, prior to the GPS Shoe it was not uncommon for Alzheimer’s sufferers to reject the devices out of fear or confusion. The GPS Shoe provides the caregiver with a means to monitor their charges via smartphone or computer with an interactive map. The caregiver can even establish “safe zones” whereby they will be immediately notified with a text message if the patient wanders outside of a pre-established geographical perimeter.
The GPS Shoe does present some real privacy concerns as the design of the device is deliberately intended to be undetectable by the wearer. I do wonder at the potential ease of abuse of the shoe by those who seek to monitor non Alheimer’s sufferers for purely selfish and possibly dangerous reasons. However, the safety of Alzheimers sufferers as well as the peace of mind afforded their caregivers just may outweigh its’ potential threats to privacy.
Hickies: Elastic Shoelaces for Arthritis Sufferers
Hickies are an elastic shoelace replacement system that completely eliminate the need for tying shoelaces. The rubber devices feature a hook and loop fastening system intended to be fed through the eyelets of laced shoes in place of traditional shoelaces, one device per row of eyelets. Hickies, which come in one size and a rainbow of colors, are designed to replace traditional shoelaces in any type of shoe or boot. Aesthetically, Hickies can be used to customize any heretofore laceable footwear and also allow for the slipping on and off of shoes without the need to tie and untie shoelaces.
Though not developed specifically with arthritis sufferers in mind the application of Hickies for arthritis patients is tremendous. The relative ease afforded Hickies wearers effectively returns independence to those who lack the dexterity and or flexibility required to tie and lace traditional laced shoes. Additionally the devices minimizes trip and fall accidents, a potentially fatal hazard for the elderly, presented by loose or untied shoelaces. This is one I am definitely excited to see.
Nano Enhanced Undergarments to Combat Body Odor
Goldwin Company, a Japan Based clothing manufacturer, has recently introduced MXP Underwear, a line of undergarments that uses nanotechnology to combat body odor. The MXP line, which is short for “Maxi Fresh Plus,” includes mens boxer shorts and briefs. Per Goldwin, the undergarments have the ability to eliminate 99 percent of the odor caused by perspiration and 88 percent of body odors in general. Though I am a little suspicious as to exactly how those percentages were measured, if the company’s claims are true perhaps MXP represents a breakthrough for those who suffer from hyperhidrosis, a medical condition whereby sufferers perspire excessively and unpredictably.
According to the National Institutes of Health 2 to 3 percent of the population currently suffers from hyperhidrosis. Unfortunately, less than 40 percent of sufferers seek medical treatment for the condition. Ressons for this reticence are likely numerous however it is not hard to imagine that personal embarrassment is chief among them. If the MXP line, which reportedly has been tested in the International Space Station, does even a fraction of what it claims, then perhaps hyperhydrosis sufferers at last have a private, non-medical tool at their disposal to combat a particularly isolating and demoralizing condition.
Xeni Collection: Fashionable clothing for the Wheelchair Bound
Xeni Collection was launched in 2010 by Ann Oliver, a former architect whose own fight with multiple sclerosis had left her wheelchair bound. The brand designs, manufactures and retails couture garments designed specifically for the seated figure and severely disabled wearers.
Oliver recognized a significant gap in the ever evolving high fashion landscape, that of fashion designed with the disabled figure in mind. Setting out to fill that gap Oliver re-trained in fashion and textile design and developed, from concept to production including pattern design and textile development, a line of attire to both flatter and assist severely disabled wearers. Oliver’s designs feature innovations such as magnetic fastenings for customers who have difficulty manipulating buttons and zippers. The line’s garments are specifically designed for the seated figure, recognizing that this client will most often be viewed from above. This of course represents a specific shift in the designer’s aesthetic perspective, one that heretofore was unrepresented in the world of traditional high fashion, which is generally viewed from a head-on perspective.
Xeni collection represents a brilliant and particularly inspiring techno fashion solution for the disabled fashion wearer. I do hope to see more labels emulating Xeni’s knowledge and sensitivity, and designing for this severely under served segment of the market.
Downs Designs: Garments Designed for people with Down Syndrome
Karen Bowersox is another designer whose personal connection to affliction inspired her to fill a heretofore invisible gap in the ready to wear fashion landscape, that of garments designed for people with Down Syndrome. Inspired by her granddaughter, whose parents struggled daily finding garments that fit properly, Bowersox launched Downs Designs in 2010 to design, manufacture and retail clothing cut specfically to fit the unique body shape of wearers with Down Syndrome.
The line features simple basic pieces for adults, teens and children, designed for easy manipulation by Down’s sufferers. The line was prototyped using eight adult models with Down Syndrome. Bowersox’s design team literally created a unique sizing scheme, dubbed “Down Sizing” designed specifically to meet the unique figure needs of Down Disease sufferers.
Proper garment fit is paramount for Down Syndrome clients and top priority in Down’s Designs design principle. Who would have ever thought that “Down Sizing” would be a good thing?
The designers and labels profiled here represent but a few of the innovators in the techno-fashion space striving the meet the unique needs of disabled fashion wearers the world over. Fashion designed to compensate for physical deficiencies is one of the most creatively challenging market segments to succeed in. These brands are indeed ones to be inspired by.
The word “cyborg” likely conjures all sorts of dystopian imagery to mind. I know when I hear it I think of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a high tech costume with guns blazing, relentlessly blasting away at Sarah Conner. That’s probably the image that most folks think of actually. However is that what a real cyborg actually looks like in real life? Yes, I did write “real cyborg” and “real life.” Most people don’t realize this but there are real live cyborgs walking around every day right here in the year 2012. What’s more, they’ve been here, on this planet I mean, for as long as everyone else has and you probably even know quite a few of them. In fact, I am a cyborg myself.