I’ve always loved the idea of wearing something that augments your body’s natural abilities in some way. Growing up I was a medievalist. I started an armoring apprenticeship when I was 13 and slowly completed my own suit of armor over the course of 3 years. I loved the feeling of being invincible in that armor.
Now that I’m into technology, I would love to have a new suit of sorts that would allow me to do cool things like see in the dark, or control a multicopter, or deploy tools at my finger tips.
The way I see it, wearable tech has three main issues: Fashion, capability, and practicality.
The fashion issue, while important, is ultimately all just “in the head” so to speak of society. It’s an impression that changes over time. What looks ridiculous now at one time looked extremely fashionable. What’s fashionable now will one day look utterly ridiculous.
If you can change the public’s perception of wearable technology, it could become fashionable. The problem is that right now, if you have wearable tech with poor aesthetics, you come off looking like this guy:
In his sci-fi novel “Snow Crash”, Neal Stephenson has characters like the guy above. He calls them “gargoyles”:
“Gargoyles represent the embarrassing side of the Central Intelligence Corporation. Instead of using laptops, they wear their computers on their bodies, broken up into separate modules that hang on the waist, on the back, on the headset. They serve as human surveillance devices, recording everything that happens around them. Nothing looks stupider; these getups are the modern-day equivalent of the slide-rule scabbard or the calculator pouch on the belt, marking the user as belonging to a class that is at once above and far below human society. They are a boon to Hiro because they embody the worst stereotype of the CIC stringer. They draw all the attention. The payoff for this self-imposed ostracism is that you can be in the Metaverse all the time, and gather intelligence all the time.”
Nobody wants to look like that. You’d stand out from everyone and immediately indicate that you’re a complete weirdo. On the other extreme, we have the super fashionable guy with absolutely no augmentations.
Fashion and practicality, while not necessarily opposite sides of a spectrum, often have trouble working well together. The guy above is fashionable, but is entirely dependent upon and at the mercy of his environment.
A lot of practicality revolves around being prepared for possible scenarios. For example: I often carry a backpack with me, even if it is empty in case I’m out and I want to be able to carry something that I pick up. The guy picture above doesn’t have that ability. He would have to either buy a bag to carry whatever it is he has, or carry it in his arms all the way home.
I also always carry a flashlight and a utility knife on me. This might sound a little much to some, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a situation where having instant access to a flashlight was useful. I laugh every time I use it and someone is surprised and asks me “why do you carry a flashlight around?!” when the answer is shining there right in front of their face as I’m helping them find something or see at night. “It’s useful!” They just fail to make the mental connection. They are entirely helpless in their environment.
Perhaps this mindset of mine comes from having grown up playing video games. In role-playing games characters can have inventory spaces that dictate how much “stuff” they can carry. They might have specific tools that let them solve a puzzle or work through a problem. Having items with you that provide you with different abilities (like a flashlight, or a utility knife) are extremely useful for being able to deal with whatever situation you find yourself in.
But even here there’s a balance. You could be prepared for nothing and not need to carry anything, or you could be prepared for anything and need a batman like utility belt, at which point you start having problems with practicality, which I’ll address in a bit.
Capability is another big issue with today’s wearable tech. The problem is that we have all these grand ideas that we can think of, but that we currently do not possess the technology to accomplish. The end result is that we end up making devices that look like what would imagine future, capable devices, of doing, but in reality are nothing more than functionless movie props.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly is the issue of practicality.
Wearable tech does you no good if it is a chore to use. Putting it on and using it has to be as seamless as putting on your pants. If not, then you’re not going to use it and keep forgetting it on the nightstand, and then what’s the point?
Some people have tried to address the fashion and practicality issues with wearable tech by disguising devices as jewelry.
(Fitness tracker disguised as pendant.)
While this might be a step in the right direction, I still feel it’s limited by the fact that not every piece of jewelry will work with every outfit, so you must either have multiple and redundant pieces of wearable tech with different aesthetics for different outfits, or not use the device at all.
Wearable tech will either have to be embedded in normal looking neutral devices like glasses (though perhaps not as obvious as google glass), or public perception of wearing tech will have to change, but I doubt that will happen soon.
In the meantime, I might just say screw it and try to build myself something like a pip boy.