A technologic skin is only natural
There is a mainly sceptic attitude towards technology, both in fashion or in our body. Whenever the idea of adding technology to our clothing or in our body is brought to attention, there is most of the time a mainly detained reaction. This attitude was also traceable in a debate about wearable technology, at V2 Instititute for Unstable Media, organised by Piem Wirtz and open to fashion students and wearable tech professionals (2012. pers.comm). A reaction by one of the students was:
“Although technology is “hot” right now and everyone wants to be seen with the latest Apple device, no one wants to wear an Apple jacket”
What can be concluded from this reaction, is that it shows how fashion and technology are experienced as separate worlds. The student relates technology to a computer and fashion to a jacket. Wearable technology is seen as a computer in a jacket. The area overlapping these two worlds is not taken in consideration, while this seems to be the area where wearable technology wants to position itself. Another element that can be concluded from this reaction of the student, is the taboo he feels in wearing technology. The student shows resistance against the idea of wearable technology by arguing why consumers won’t wear garments including technology instead of thinking about why they should want to wear it. The student did not want to put the subject in a context of the intimacy of wearing technology on the body.
It seems to feel aberrant to him to experience technology in textiles as something we would want to dress the body with. Technology is not associated with what feels natural to us, such as wearing a garment like cotton or wool and by that it is often too eagerly dismissed for being used as something we work with in the fashion industry. In order to analyze this statement of the student and its accuracy, Koert van Mensvoort’s theory on our notions of nature and technology is explained below.
Koen van Mensvoort (2012) goes in detail about our contemporary view and understanding of the concepts of nature and technology. He states that our current idea of nature is too traditional. When we think of nature most of us will think of green grass and woods, our city parks and trips to the beach. While actually most of the grass and trees are grown and cultivated by man and machine. Cultivated meaning unnatural. Natural nature is the uncontrolled nature like the weed growing in between garden tiles. While we are cultivating our nature, transforming it into an unnatural environment, the technological driven industry has created products that we now cannot control anymore and start to have a life on its own, like algorithms. The product of technology thus now has the character of what nature used to have; something that lives on itself and is hard to control by man. Reasoning from his theory it is a misunderstanding of us to experience technology as unnatural, it might just be actually more natural as what we consider to be nature.
Once more returning to the reaction of the student, there is one thing left to remark about the argument in relation to the contemporary attitude towards technology entering the field of fashion. The student talks about technology as if it is a trend, saying technology is “hot” right now. This perception of technology is anything but right if we approach technology from a historical point of view.
Kevin Kelly writes in his essay on the world without technology (2010):
“Our humanoid ancestors first chipped stone scrapers 2.5 million years ago to give themselves claws. By about 250,000 years ago they devised crude techniques for cooking, or predigesting, with fire. Technology-assisted hunting, versus tool-free scavenging, is equally old.”
What he says here is, that in fact the stone scraper is technology as well. It is a tool, an invention by man. From an evolutionary point of view, we have survived as species because we have made tools. This has evolved through time into more advanced technology, but technology has and will always be a part of human nature and is thus not to be understood as a trend.
Our attitude towards technology in fashion doesn’t seem to be very open-minded, not because we don’t want to accept technology on or in our skin but simply because we need a different understanding to open our minds to these innovations. This shift in slowly accepting and understanding new techniologies seems to be occurring at this moment. The fact that the issue of our understanding of technology and nature is becoming a topic of contemporary discussion, for anthropologists and institutions like V2, means there is a shift in the current notion we have on nature and technology.