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The Age of Wearables
Azabache is a cultural “hybrid” who was born before the turn of the 21st century but whose father and mother belonged to one of the tribal communities in Mindanao. She studied in college and took up Social Work, a four year course that also needed a one year review after college for the board examinations. She passed the board in 2011 and was accepted to work as a full-fledged social worker with a government agency.
As a member of the indigenous community, her culture and her past have strongly influenced her values including what to wear, for instance. But as a modern woman educated in college, she allows herself to adjust to ways of the increasingly high-tech modern world.
When we met again just recently, she was wearing a bright red silicone wristband on the left, similar to what was being sold at eBay that looked like a fitness tracker (but was not), and a smartwatch on the right wrist. On the attractive red wrist band were inscribed the words “Diabetic.” I asked if she was diabetic. She replied, “No. I just wanted to remind people to be aware of the disease. This is my advocacy.”
Pretty smart move, I said, but I have also seen a number of younger people mostly high school kids in my country wearing similar wristbands but with different words or names. And since the campaign period for the national elections in the Philippines has begun, many wear the wristbands of their favorite candidates with their names on it. Most of these political wristbands however are made out of rubber, unlike the smart watches that are made of silicone.
Where it All Began
Long before the industrial revolution, and even before the Biblical times, wearables were largely symbolic, to convey a message based on culture, and to conform to the cultural norm, values and styles of society. Today, wearables are highly functional and are technology based.
But first, we must be thankful to all the ancient tribal or indigenous peoples of the world who started the concept and practice of wearables in the form of bracelets, arm bands, earrings, nose rings, neck chains, anklets, and even belly chains who were all proud to wear them for what their culture stood for.
This includes the African tribal peoples, the North American Indians. all Asians, and South American tribes. They all brought a rich tradition of art and culture to the modern world. Because of them, we have what we call our tech-based wearables today. I believe they have become a major inspiration in the design and creation of the modern wearables today.
From Evolution to Revolution
The early wearables before the Age of the Internet were unique to the individual wearing the items such as necklaces and bracelets. It was just a matter of owning the items and wearing them without any global significance in terms of communication. They were unique to the individual and to the group and culture where the individual belongs or whom he or she represents, such as a fraternity ring or a sorority necklace.
The same is true for a member of an African tribe. The headband a woman wears represents a certain rank in the culture of her group.
But a man who is wearing a Ringly today, embedded with either an emerald or sapphire stone extends his uniqueness to the world, since the ring is not only a jewel for himself and for his family or group, but syncs with an iOS or Android device to alert him to calls, messages and emails he might miss even if his phone is in his car. His ring personally connects him in real time to the world!.
In the same way, the young high school girls wearing the so-called friendship bracelets or Jewelbots are not wearing them just for fun or because they belong to their gang but because they can talk to each other over Bluetooth, and their charms to vibrate or light up when their friends are nearby. It’s an early warning device, aside from teaching them to code which are great for teenage girls interested in programming.
Today’s wearables have changed the game of wearing jewelry and cultural identification, and have changed the rules of the game itself with the introduction of new, innovative functionalities such as those exhibited by smart watches, fitness trackers, smart clothing, smart jewellery, the band pulse, the brain sensing headband known as the Muse Headband.
The category includes Google’s famed Google Glass under its Project Glass, and the head-mounted display (HMD) like Oculus Rift.
From the Old to the New
Diabetes medical alert bracelets have become popular today, in the light of the widespread global contagion, and in this regard, they have become a form of advocacy too. The device is known as a wearable tech.
According to wearabletech.com “a wearable tech is a gadget one wears to connect oneself with smart sensors, usually Bluetooth to achieve personal goals such as staying fit, losing weight or being more organized. Most wearables are worn around the wrist, but an increasing number can be clipped to the body and hung around the neck. Wearables are quickly blending with jewelry, and are worn in the same way.”
According to Kovert Designs, Smart jewellery is mostly aimed at women right now, and the most common usage is to discreetly notify the user of texts, calls or emails when their phone is out of reach.
Implantables represent the latest frontier of wearables. These are a group of wearables or devices surgically attached somewhere under the skin. The implant could be done for a number of medical reasons, like insulin pumps, or for contraception. Implantable devices are expected to get a whole lot bigger in the next 20 years. This is the innovation to watch closely.
Other wearables are getting very good at measuring the physical body’s performance parameters. These gadgets can record one’s heart rate, body fat composition, perspiration, health, and temperature and muscle activity all by just touching the skin as well as measuring movement, distance and speed using GPS, accelerometers and gyroscopes.
In the case of the Muse Headband, the device can gauge the general levels of mental/neurological activity by measuring the electrical activity of the scalp. Second, it allows the user to train oneself to respond more effectively to stress and anxiety. The device can measure 5 types of brainwave patterns, from Delta to Gamma and can be used to train the user to complete a meditation exercise.
Fashion and technological functionality is also expressed in the MICA, the luxury bracelet that New York Fashion Week audiences fell for before they even knew it was smart. A collaboration between Opening Ceremony and Intel, the 3G-connected bangle has an inconspicuous 1.6-inch OLED screen on the inside of the accessory to display notifications, even if the phone is left at home. It has a 48 hour battery life. With 18k gold details, real snakeskin, pearls and semi-precious stones, it is a real stunner up close. It feels expensive and looks like an avant-garde African designed bracelet. The device would match a fashion wardrobe at anytime.
I asked Azabache about how she feels with her diabetic advocacy wristband and her Android powered watch, and she said she feels great. She looks forward to wearing other devices in the future that combine art and technology. She is an avid follower of high-technology despite her being a member of one of the indigenous tribes in Mindanao.
Briefly I mentioned to her that my interest in modern wearables is in its role in the evolution of society, and I believe that smart watches and all the other newly developed gadgets would advance our evolution and development.