Get Your Technology Out of My Pants, or Why Smart Tech Can Get So, So Dumb
Have you ever looked down at your jeans and wished they could send texts for you? Yeah, me neither. From interactive denim to phone-silencing suits, it's clear that "smart" clothing is here to stay — but the smart clothes of the future aren't going to give real people anything useful.
Please, for the love of god, stop. Leave my clothes alone.
I don't need to communicate through my clothes — I have a phone for that. I don't need to buy an entire new wardrobe equipped with microcomputers. There's also a hefty checklist these electronic-laden clothes need to check off before they should even be considered "wearables": they need to be washable. Flexible. Stylish. And, most importantly, necessary.
Here are some beautiful, expensive items no one needs.
A jacket I can swipe to call my mom
Google and Levi's announced a partnership called Project Jacquard in May 2015. The goal was to make interactive garments so that "simple gestures like tapping or swiping send a wireless signal to the wearer's mobile device and activate functionality, such as silencing phone calls or sending a text message," according to a news release. That means, when your phone rings, you may be able to finger-drum your thighs to make it stop and then swipe your bicep to call your mom back later (depending on where the electronics are woven in).
These jeans are so smart, but so pointless. Right now, with the phone in your regular, "dumb" pants, you can squeeze your pocket to mute an incoming call.
Lighting up for no goddamn reason
The beginning of fashion tech was adorning clothes and accessories with LED lights. Sure, it looked cool strutting down the runway, but try walking into your office on a Monday morning glowing like a Christmas tree.
Rubbing vitamin E on my ass
Swapping out circuits for ginkgo extract does not make jeans any smarter. In January 2016, Guess released its Jeancare collection — a line of denim infused with nutrients to hydrate your skin, released when you wear them. Gross.
Business suits doing business-y things
Samsung unveiled a Smart Suit during CES 2016. The NFC-equipped suit looks pretty sharp, but the functionality is... meh. You can pay a pretty penny for a brand-new suit so that you can tap your phone against your sleeve to put it in "do not disturb" mode. Or you can just do it the old-fashioned way in a millisecond.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
What smart clothing could do
Actually save lives.
Here's one example: Researchers at Ohio State University have successfully woven circuits into clothes with the exactness needed to integrate them into printed metal circuit boards, TechCrunch reported. The next step is to "incorporate receivers and electronic components" into them, said Ohio State ElectroScience Laboratory director John Volakis. For "medical applications like imaging and health monitoring," this success is a stride in the right direction.
Not as smart as it sounds: Shrinking down electronics to a discreet and flexible size is amazing. It can, as I mentioned above, be a major milestone in health care monitoring. But we keep taking these electronics and trying to make everyday clothes that can do something as astounding as sending a text that probably says, "Hello. I am away from my phone right now. I will get back to you as soon as I can. This message was sent from Melanie's upper thigh." I'm not about to donate my entire closet to Goodwill so that I can spend hundreds of dollars for jeans that can do something my phone is perfectly and conveniently capable of. Stop.
When it comes to innovating toward flexible, more fabric-like electronics that can benefit the medical community, keep it up! But using said electronics as a "communications and sensing" garment, as stands, is a bit unnecessary when our phones are working perfectly well. I mean, wearables are trying the whole fashion tech thing and look how well they're doing.