Wearable arts: time to experiment
The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts mission is to inspire and support the use of digital technologies in the arts sector. This mission is realised not only through funding collaborations but also by researching and learning processes which inspire the sharing of knowledge among project partners and the wider arts sector. To expand this knowledge base, we’re constantly scrutinising emerging technologies, exploring how tech trends are shaping the future of other industries and how this could be directly or indirectly related to the arts.
The proliferation of these technologies seems to move increasingly from solely practical purposes to more creative and subjective uses. For instance concepts like ‘computational creativity’ explore how a programme or a computer can be used to create a new recipe and instructive devices teach children how to compose a song. This opens up vast opportunities for enhancing cultural experiences by augmenting the digital with the physical and effectively adding value to the sector.
Over the next few weeks, we will be writing about some key technological areas which will offer a great ‘space’ for exploration and experimentation in arts and creative projects. In this first post from a three blog series we’re looking at wearable technology and its relation to the arts.
Nearly everything around us can now be connected and used as a platform or a medium. Wearable technology, tech togs, or fashion electronics are wearable devices incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies. These devices often incorporate practical functionalities and can potentially transform anything to a digitally enabled platform.
As this trend becomes more mainstream, with almost 40 million fitness wearable devices sold in 2013 and expected to skyrocket to 180 million by 2017, it becomes clear that elements of our digital lives will no longer exist somewhere in a box but will be increasingly immersed in the most transparent way into everyday experiences.
Where have we seen this before?
It would be unfair to neglect Google Glass’ contribution to opening up wearable tech to the public or at least its promise to do so. Indeed, the wearable trend spread, at least across media, after the launch of the highly anticipated Google glass beta version. To understand the pace of its growth and make some draft predictions for the near future we can mention the fact that the number of Google Glass devices produced, has jumped from 50.000 to 434.000 in only two years.
Beyond Google Glass, another example and one of the most popular products introducing the ‘quantified self’ concept, is Nike+ Fuelband, a bracelet fitness tracker measuring the levels of physical activity. More specifically, the idea of the quantified self is translated to products designed to track one’s daily activities to identify patterns or progress and improve the quality of life in terms of physical activity, dietary habits, sleep and almost anything else really.
What could this mean for the arts?
Wearable tech in the arts sector is still a relatively virgin territory. Only few artists and even fewer arts organisations have experimented with such concepts, something that can partially be explained by the tech skills and potentially the amount of investment needed to go after such innovations. However, we would expect these barriers to diminish while wearable tech devices become more affordable and as such, more popular, following more or less the same fashion with smartphones and tablets.
The possibilities that this could have on the arts are endless and up to the limits of our creativity. In short, wearable devices could affect not only (1) the way we ‘consume’ cultural products but also (2) the way we communicate with the artist and possibly (3) other peripheral elements of the cultural experience.
To be more specific:
- Wearable devices give us the opportunity to see ourselves transformed to a computer with all the co-evolved possibilities that this opens up. We can see more than we actually see and we are able to edit, zoom, replicate, transcribe or even have a dialogue with the object of our experience. Looking for example at the ‘Viewpoint of Billions, the recent work of David Datuna, we have a fascinating exploration of the American history and spirit as told by historically significant individuals whose contributions have helped form, guide and define the United States as a culture and a nation. Datuna's American flag through its hundreds of optical lenses, also communicates directly with its audience, prompting questions and taking photos through the viewfinder of Glass.
- In other instances wearable devices serve as platforms which enable communication either between different people or between people and computer. With a similar functionality, Lightwave a wearable tech bracelet recently launched in SXSW 2014 is a piece of wearable technology that gathers real-time data about its wearer – temperature, movement and audio levels – to feed back to music performers. It also visualizes live the data from the crowd, to give performers an idea of how their audience is feeling and react accordingly. Through this process the performer is not only in a position to evaluate the audience response to the show but also to inform its decision making, in real time!
- Extending the idea of the ‘quantified self’, we have the ‘authenticated self’, which intends to leverage biometrics to automatically verify users and accordingly allow access to connected devices or spaces. This is a revolutionary idea still on the very early stage of its development. Already major technology companies building on the biometric capacity of wearable devices attempt to tackle security issues by using heartbeat as a password or our fingertips to USB devices. Such technologies could revolutionise ticketing and visiting experience but also make the operations of cultural venues faster way less costly and more efficient. If you are interested to find out more about how our bodies could be our new passwords register for this interesting event coming up in Nesta.
This post is just an introduction to the exciting field of wearable tech in relation to the brave new world of digital arts. Have you heard of an arts project making use of wearable tech? We’d love to know more about it and add it to our selection of case studies, so please leave your comment below.