Wearable technology and smart materials

This article connects the evolution of wearable technology with the correlation between the decline in prestige of dance since the French and Industrial Revolutions with the subsequent loss of physical awareness, memory, and intelligence in society.There are insights to be gained for the future of wearables in the fact that it’s no coincidence dance and the body regained its rightful place in human life thanks to the avent of robotics and AI.

The first section discusses human relation and fascination with machines. It takes the clock, the archetype of mechanical machines, to illustrate human behave according to the mechanical metaphor they visualise and are more computable than machines.

The second section takes an history journey of the rejection of the body in Western European culture, from dance loss of prestige after the French Revolution culminating in humans loss of memory and physical awareness since the industrial revolution.

The third section explores neuroscience and the discovery that the human brain is developed not for thinking but to control movement, which is what identifies our humanity and the only way we interact with the world. It concludes that nevertheless, all the technological and social-historical developments that regulate life, human survival still depends upon alertness to moving objects and reproduction and today, thanks to robotics and AI, the focus is back on the body, dance, and the tangible.

The final section introduces Wearable Dynamics Philosophy, which explores the intersection of communication and smart materials. The author examines the meaning of communication as transformation and desire to be seduced, and how technology can create the distance necessary for seduction to exist.

Human fascination with machines: mechanical metaphors and oxymoron

Since the invention of the clock, the archetype of mechanical machines, people no longer eat when they are hungry, but when it is dinner time. They no longer sleep when they are tired, but when it is time to go to bed. Through the clock can be observed that humans are more predictable and computable than machines, they behave and adjust according to the mechanical metaphor they visualize.
Human fascination with machines resides in the unpredictability, playfulness, and freedom that machines embody. Machines provide pure fun and a sense of built-in meaning and prescribed functionality that offer a concrete escape from the feeling of obligation to be productive and meaningful, which humans often struggle with.

The rejection of the body in Western European culture.“First it was the tangible then with the appearence of God it was the untangible”:

The instrument of dance is the body. In the old biblical and greek times dance views was of a multisensory stimulations of mind and body which called attention to sexuality and the potency of dance to express emotions and arouse feelings.
However with the arrival of Church love-hate relation to the body: Christ was God’s creation made of flesh, yet the body was implicated in sin, for about 2000 years Western European culture neglected the body and deemed it the enemy of spiritual life based on the persuasive notion and that a human is essentially a soul imprisoned for mysterious reasons in a body.

The rejection of the body also reflects the inability to come to terms with the passing of time and death.

After the French Revolution dance looses its importance and prestige and the body became the foe of economic productivity. Because the emergent french bourgeoisie attributed the collapsed of french monarchy in part to the moral laxity, they transformed the body from an instrument of pleasure into one of production. In this way the middle class could protect its power. Self control meant control of the body and, further, control of people who were primarily of the body. The same attitudes developed with the rise of protestantism and the Industrial Revolution in England.

It’s interesting to note that since dance lost its importance and prestige after the French Revolution, and it became associated with moral laxity and impediments to economic productivity, dance moved from the epitome of royal male performance during“ Luigi XIV” to the nadir of inferior female performance.

History of the relation between textile crafting and technological developments

Textiles are an important technology that has driven economic development and global trade throughout history. The Industrial Revolution began with textile innovations and the invention of aniline dyes in the mid-19th century gave rise to the modern chemical industry. However, textiles have been forgotten as a technical achievement and are now primarily associated with the fashion industry. This cultural amnesia has multiple effects, including the rise of computers as the definition of high technology, environmental issues, and a lack of interest in traditional needle arts. Forgetting the history of textiles sacrifices an important part of our cultural heritage and blinds us to valuable analogies for understanding how technology and trade transform economies and culture. (See full article below)

Source: https://aeon.co/essays/how-textiles-repeatedly-revolutionised-human-technology

‘The important improvements and innovations in clothes for the World of Tomorrow will be in the fabrics themselves’ (Raymond Loewy, 1939). In 1939, Vogue ran a major feature on the fashions of the future: many designs specified yet-to-be-invented materials that could adjust to temperature, change colour or be crushed into suitcases without wrinkling. Without exception, everyone foretelling the ‘World of Tomorrow’ believed that an exciting future meant innovative new fabrics.
They all understood something we’ve largely forgotten that TEXTILES ARE TECHNOLOGY , and as such they are more ancient than bronze and as contemporary as nanowires.

The story of technology is in fact the story of textiles. From the most ancient times to the present, so is the story of economic development and global trade. The origins of chemistry lie in the colouring and finishing of cloth. The textile business funded the Italian Renaissance and the Mughal Empire; it left us double-entry bookkeeping, letters of credit, Michelangelo’s David and the Taj Mahal. As much as spices or gold, the quest for fabrics and dyestuffs drew sailors across strange seas. In ways both subtle and obvious, textiles made our world.

Most conspicuously, the Industrial Revolution started with the spinning jenny, the water frame, and the thread-producing mills in northern England that installed them. Before railroads or automobiles or steel mills, fortunes were made in textile technology. The new mills altered where people lived and how they worked. And the inexpensive fabrics they produced changed the way ordinary people looked.

Then, a second conspicuous wave of textile innovation began with the purple shade that francophile marketers named mauve. The invention of aniline dyes in the mid-19th century made a full spectrum of colour – including newly intense blacks – universally available. The synthetic-dye business gave rise to the modern chemical industry, and yet more technology-based fortunes.
The visionaries of 1939 knew this industrial history. They knew, too, that a third round of textile breakthroughs had begun. Cellulose-based synthetics such as rayon were already common, and just months earlier, DuPont had patented its first polymer and heralded the nylon stockings to come. Like the dyes before them, 20th-century fibres would not be wrested from living nature but designed in labs. Once again, fortunes would be made and, once again, the textures of daily life would change.

As late as the 1970s, textiles still enjoyed the aura of science. Since then, however, we’ve stopped thinking of them as a technical achievement. In today’s popular imagination, fabric entirely belongs to the frivolous world of fashion. Even in the pages of Vogue, ‘wearable technology’ means electronic gadgets awkwardly tricked out as accessories, not the soft stuff you wear against your skin – no matter how much brainpower went into producing it. When we imagine economic progress, we no longer think about cloth, or even the machines that make it.

This cultural amnesia has multiple causes. The rise of computers and software as the very definition of ‘high technology’ eclipsed other industries. Intense global competition drove down prices of fibres and fabric, making textiles and apparel a less noticeable part of household budgets, and turning textile makers into unglamorous, commodity businesses. Environmental campaigns made synthetic a synonym for toxic. And for the first time in human history, generations of women across the developed world grew up without learning the needle arts. As understandable as it might be, forgetting about textiles sacrifices an important part of our cultural heritage.

It cuts us off from essential aspects of the human past, including the lives and work of women. It deprives us of valuable analogies for understanding how technology and trade transform economies and culture. It blinds us to some of today’s most pervasive innovations – and some of tomorrow’s most intriguing.

2006 the year the smart phone arrived.

The modern smartphone has already given us the opportunity to fly through space (through maps or video conferencing), travel through time (through our photos or social networks), and increase our data access (through omnipresent Internet access).
Wearables will just be «more literal extensions» of these powers.
They’ll offer us everything from more coordination to improved hearing. And it’s the quest for these powers that will drive user adoption.

Short history of wearables:

Up until this point, wearable technology has been stuck in the information age.
Our devices have counted our steps, measured our heart rates and brain waves, and tracked everything from our sleep habits to our breathing patterns. This data-focused phenomenon, known as «The Quantified Self,» was crystallised by Wired editors Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, when they coined the term in 2007.

The rush to translate the human body into data sets that can be processed by our machines has resulted in an explosion of hardware devices – many of which do the same thing and aren’t always that technologically interesting.

A correlation between the evolution of the internet and the one of wearables can be made. First there was The Information Age marked by «increasing efficiency in the dissemination of information via the internet from producer to consumer.» Then it followed, the Social Age which is marked by «a fundamental change in the way we communicate and socialise.»

This model can be useful in thinking about the evolution of wearables. The wearable technology we’ve seen up until this point belongs to a kind of Information Age – data-driven, aiming to be as efficient as possible and primarily one-to-one in its focus to deliver wearers information about their bodies.

The next wave of wearables promises to usher in a Social Age, which is not marked by a movement away from information, but towards communication and self-expression.

Definition of Smart Materials:

For a discussion of the present/future of wearables we need a definition of Smart Materials and to understand what is meant by Smart behaviour.

«Smart behaviour» is the reaction of a material to some change in its environment, however no material can be Smart in isolation. Smart qualities comes from being a part of a structure or system. 
Smart behavior occurs when a material can sense some stimulus from its environment and react to it in a useful, reliable, reproducible and usually reversible manner.

A really Smart material will use its reaction to the external stimulus to initiate or actuate an active response, e.g. with an active control system. At this point is when we realize most of all so called smart wearables produced, during the Quantified self period, failed to fulfill the definition, of smart.

The real reason for brains according to neuroscience

Religion’s neglect of the body had a strong influence on society and Art. Technology increased it to the extreme and the technosphere has homogenized bodies to the point that today we have lost all perception of the body.

However Today, thanks to robotics and AI the focus is back on the body, dance and the tangible. It seems robots and machines hold the memory that before living in society, we live in our bodies.
By teaching machines how to be human, neuroscience has discovered that the human brain is so developed not for thinking but to control movement.
In Daniel Wolpert words: You may reason that we have [brains] to perceive the world or to think, and that’s completely wrong. The brain evolved, not to think or feel, but to control movement. Furthermore, to understand movement is to understand the whole brain. And therefore it’s important to remember when you are studying memory, cognition, sensory processing, they’re there for a reason, and that reason is action.

Movement is what identifies our humanity and the only way we have of interacting with the world, whether foraging for food or attracting a waiter’s attention. All communication, including speech, sign language, gestures and writing, is mediated via the motor system.

Human movements identity is defined by the body internal structure of ligaments, muscles, skeleton and how they coordinate with each other. The mechanics of these systems are only perceived once the body begins to move.

The homogenization of bodies over the years by the techno-sphere has resulted in negative consequences for the field of wearables. Critical data necessary for the development of functional wearables has been overlooked, leading to interfaces that can harm users. The loss of human sensitivity, bodily awareness becoming subservient users of technology, is a major challenge for the technology R&D field. When users are unable to perceive themselves, gauge and balance physical efforts, they are also unable to provide appropriate feedback and information to researchers regarding the impact of gadgets on their bodies.

Digital technology and seduction: Intersection of communication and smart materials

In this section we explore the intersection of communication and smart materials, and how technology can create the distance necessary for seduction to exist.

The meaning of communication:

Communication is transformation rather than informative declaration; it exists when participants transform each other through the transference of information (Weaver, 1939). On the other hand seduction is to be chosen by something that is alien to oneself.
To this end it can be argued real communication originates from the desire to be seduced.

The process of seduction needs the distance between you and the other. Technology and electronic devices by creating this distance allow to create communication systems to seduce and transform the other as well as the self.

However, to understand how to design with smart materials it’s important to acknowledge that to seduce also implies to appear vulnerable to the seducee, thus allowing it to approach. While vulnerability can be perceived as weakness, creates the possibility of being reachable, act upon and touched; without it, there cannot be communication.

Conclusion: the future of Research is in vintage hot couture custom made processes

Digital technologies are putting language into question as the recognized instrument for communication.
In conclusion, technology can create distance for seduction to occur, but movement is essential for human interaction with the world. AI and Robotics have helped humans understand intelligence, its origins, and the complexities of movement control systems. Clothes and dance, as movement control systems, are part of the realm of the erotic. This suggests what human desire for the future are wearable technology made of Rebel Machines / Subversive Bodies to Unlearn automated behaviors, play with and discover who they are.

To prevent injuries and side effects, the wearable industry must prioritize the idiosyncratic body and re-territorialize the geography of physical and desiring identities. Dynamic shapeshifting materials that can interact, support, and communicate with the wearer’s body are crucial for achieving this goal.

Movement, alike digital technologies, creates an abstraction of images, that can be produced, fast forwarded, cut, edited or thrown away. Coding movement equals coding identity.
The wearable industry must return to custom-made hot couture processes. Only then can be achieved materials, algorithms and functionalities that work together in symbiosis with the body.


While the suppression of the body by religion and cultural changes during the French and Industrial Revolutions led to a decline in the importance of physical activities, which in turn resulted in the deterioration of cognitive and social functions, recent advancements in robotics and AI are paving the way for the revitalization of dance as crucial component of human life.