The first in a series of three seminars, Wearable Turbulence addressed questions that arise when computers become part of our garments or otherwise wearable. Bradley Rhodes, Christa Sommerer and Kristina Andersen each presented their views in a two hour session, moderated by Sha Xin Wei.
After having introduced the speakers, Wei proposed some relevant topics of discussion. For instance, Wei pointed out that terms like 'portability', 'ubiquity' and 'wearability' are significant for the field's vocabulary. All these terms are related to the whereabouts of technology, whereas 'ubiquity' in particular can also be thought of as an adjective of environment. Another interesting topic that Wei brought up, is the dichotomy 'inside' and 'outside' that takes on various forms. Think of indoor vs. outdoor, inside or outside the skin and public vs. private. A last topic Wei suggested concerned method. In the discourse of wearable computing, should we approach wearable computing from a design point of view, would art be an effective approach or is science the most reasonable method?
In their talks, the participants unfortunately didn't quite react to the topics Wei suggested, which doesn't mean a lot of other interesting things came up.
Bradley Rhodes elaborated on what it's like being a cyborg by refering to what he called 'lessons from the living experiment'. Part of this living experiment was Steve Mann, probably the most infamous cyborgs among all fellow cyborgs. Just like Wei, Rhodes thinks it's important to render intelligible the term 'wearable' itself. The question 'what is a wearable anyway' leads to partial definitions that include 'pocket or cloth based', 'constant access' or 'works without full attention'. The most important argument however, is that technologies should be an extension of the self, seamlessly integrated and augmenting the senses. The question about why we should wear technologies answers Rhodes by revealing the technologies' background. Wearable technologies are a solution in domains dealing with multitasking like medicine and military: they execute secondary and supporting tasks when one's brains, hands and other bodyparts are occupied.
Christa Sommerer created the work 'Mobile Feelings' together with Laurent Mignonneau in which they explore touching and breathing as novel ways of telecommunication to comment on the unwanted sharing of personal information that mobile telephony gave rise to. This is why Sommerer fundamentally disagreed with Rhodes; technology should be operated with full awareness and be less transparent. Also, she argues that there should be an option for switching it off, otherwise we tend to forget the presence of the technologies and get used to their controlability and traceability. In terms of design, 'Mobile Feelings' was designed from a uselessness point of view, thus preventing the technolgy to be used as surveillance technology.
The last participant of this seminar is Kristina Andersen whose work is oriented on notions of tangibility versus intangibility. In her work, she very much relies on the principle of 'the willing suspension of disbelief' and aims for a certain kind of experience prototyping. 'If only' is one of her projects that illustrates this very well. It examines what emotions are being experienced when people are emotionally close while physically distant. This implies that the project seeks to gain access to subjective and private experiences. In her project 'ensemble' this is achieved by playing around with sensors, or rather, letting children experiment with wearables that very much resemble ordinary clothing but are actually technologically enhanced by sensors. Depending on the way a single cloth is being operated on or how several of them interact, the wearable's sensors produce sounds that trigger certain types of behavior.
All in all, this seminar dealt with the various technological aspects that define what wearables are, but even more, the seminar focussed on the affective aspects that are involved. Wearables imply a certain degree of personalization of technologies that in turn start to function as a defining entity of personality itself. This is where ethical questions about the openness of personal information confront efficiency questions concerning the useful tools that wearables can be. The discussion on wearbles also offers new perspectives on what factors matter in attributing meaning to mass-produced entities.