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What influences do the social values have on wearable technology?

April 25, 2010

Introduction

Technology is evolving fast and is becoming more integrated in our daily lives. In the 80s everybody lived fine without a cell phone and access to the internet. People traveled to new places with the help of a map in their pockets. They remember the phone numbers and use the nearest phone booth to make a call. Now days everybody has a cell phone and hopefully it has a GPS to guide you no matter where you go. Nobody can seem to live without the internet or a computer. Sooner or later, we will start depending on wearable technologies. Ever seen the movie Tuxedo? Well, it is very likely that we will have garments similar to that in the near future. Designers and scientist are already experimenting on implanting technologies into clothing. However, to what extent would people accept those wearable technologies?

Research Methods

It took a while for people to accept technologies into their private lives. Usually more and more people start to accept them when they realize the benefit of using them. According to my business studies of product life cycle management, most new products that are introduced in the market are not so popular at the beginning of their product life cycle. This is partly because most of us consumers are between pragmatists and conservatives instead of early adopters. Based on this fact, it would take some time before everybody starts wearing wearable technology after they are officially on the market. But before I get into how open people are to wearable technology, I first want to know how open they are to technology generally. In order to find out I have conducted some secondary research on statistics of how people think of technology generally. Then I did a little experiment myself, dressing up like a Japanese anime character to see people’s reaction on the street.

Results/Data

According to the survey on Social values, Science and Technology (January – February 2005) by Special Eurobarometer, it seems that Europeans are quite receptive to advanced technologies and the majority believes that new technology developments will have a positive effect on society in the next 20 years. 77% of EU citizen thinks that science and technology will improve the quality of life for the future generations. Moreover, 42% of EU citizens approve in all circumstances to apply science and technology into developing new materials for intelligent clothing, while 26% approve the idea only if it is highly regulated. Decisions on science and technologies can be quite complicated since it is sometimes tied to ethical and moral issues. As a result, Special Eurobarometer concluded that the majority (53% EU citizens) prefers the risk and benefit analysis approach instead of moral and ethical approach when making the decision. Moreover, they prefer to take the advice from experts instead of the general public’s view.[i]

According to my research on the current development on fashion and technology, I found out that there are all sorts of wearable technologies that are developing so far. For example: energy generating backpack[ii] that absorbs solar energy so you can charge you phone or iPod in your bag. Energy generating clothes that converts your body heat to electricity[iii]. A GPS chip planted fabric[iv] etc. There are even more innovative concepts made within fashionable technology such as The Emotion Dress by Philip Design[v] and Smart Second Skin Dress by Smart Second Skin[vi]. The former produces lights in different colors that reflect your mood, the later produces different scents according to your mood. Brilliant and beautiful concept but would you want to wear it in reality? We all want to express ourselves. However, sometimes there are certain feelings that we might not want to express in a certain moments or at a certain place. Imagine you are having a discussion with your boss who is a total nut-head. He/She is driving you crazy and you happen to wear that dress which shows your total anger and hatred against him/her. What are the circumstances? Or you suddenly bumped into your crush and that dress totally gives away how you feel about him/her. Now everybody knows including him/her. According to Social values, Science and Technology (January – February 2005) by Special Eurobarometer, 68% of EU citizens find that protecting the freedom of speech and information is very important. 67% thinks that protecting information about our private life from misuse and exploitation is very important. Special Eurobarometer concluded that there is a strong attachment to social values and these rights will still remain very important in the next 10 years.i

In order to find out more about how people will accept the look of the wearable technology, I did an experiment in which I dressed up like a Japanese anime character. In super short mini-skirt, neon colors, platform shoes, I went down to the center of Amsterdam. Everyone was looking at me. It was an odd and uncomfortable feeling since I didn’t know what people were thinking in their heads. Therefore I decided to ask them for their opinions. My question consists of ‘what do you think of this outfit?’, ‘would you ever wear something like this with technological functions?’, and ‘would you wear them if everybody starts wearing them?’ The comments I received from my first question were mostly positive. I also had one comment that was ‘well it’s strange and unusual but kind of cute. I mean if you like it then why not dress like this?’ Of course not all people on the street liked the way I looked. I could tell from some stare that it was way too weird and outrageous for them. As I tried to dug in deeper with my questions, I found out that some people (about 70%) said that they would wear something with technological functions in it, but not in the style of clothing I was wearing. About 40% said that they would probably wear this style of clothing for a costume party or for fun, but not daily. To those who are not quite sure about the style of my clothing, I proceeded with my third question. And I found out that most of them said ‘perhaps, if it becomes a popular fashion trend.’ I thought this fact was quite interesting since that is always how people come to accept a certain piece of clothing. Take jeans for example. They used to be workers’ wear but since the 70’s it has become our daily wear for all classes. Now days they are fashionable items which can be personally designed or be sold on limited editions. This shows that when people start to change their perception, when more people come to accept something, the more popularity it gets. Thus, there is a possibility that in the future people will dress like I did. I also asked them that ‘would they wear something that shows your emotions?’ The answers I got was mostly ‘no’, as most of them think that it is too revealing and they don’t want to share that personal emotion with everyone.

In generally people were quite open-minded about it even though they may not dress up like this themselves. And this coincides with the findings by Special Eurobarometer, that Europeans really value highly on the freedom of speech and individuality. This is only one type of style for wearable technologies. There are many different styles for fashionable technology just like the fashion runway. I think there will be enough variety of styles for everyone in the future.

Conclusion

Since the majority of Europeans agree that technology advancement will make the quality of life better during the next 20 years, and that most of them approve the idea of developing intelligent clothing. It is very likely that people will accept wearable technology in the future. Depending on the change of our behavior, we may become more emotionally open to others or on the contrary, more closed. Depending on the functions that those garments offer. Either way, people will choose to have the functions that are most beneficial due to the fact that they prefer the risk-benefit analysis when making decision on technology and science. Even so, it does not mean they will neglect the ethical and morals issues since they all have a high attachment to social values such as individual freedom and privacy. As for the look of fashionable technology, people learn to accept to new styles and trends and choose what we like. Therefore I think people will adopt wearable technology and use it in the best way possible for them, aesthetically wise in self-expression and functional wise in daily life.


[i] Special Eurobarometer: Social values, Science and Technology ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_225_report_en.pdf

[ii] The solar-powered backpack www.skyriderforkids.com/doubletakes/green/dt_g_energywisefashion.html

[iii] Energy generating fashion http://captain-electric.net/site/texts.php

[iv] Fabric Antenna www.popsci.com

[v] Emtion dress by Philips design www.fashion-future.nl

[vi] Smart second skin dress http://www.smartsecondskin.com/main/sciencefashionlab.htm

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