DEFINING WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY
(loosely using Quicksort, the Tower of Babel and “selppa”)
Let’s decide that apples should be called selppa (because inversions are fun of course). With this new word in hand, we head to our local farmer’s market and request selppa from every vendor who sells red, crisp fibrous fruit. As you can imagine, inquiring about selppa proves moot, making this word useless for communication as any word is only as useful as its likelihood to be generally understood.
Let’s take this concept of semantic unclarity and apply it to one of the buzziest buzzwords in Silicon Alley. *Enter wearable technology stage left*. It seems as though this term tends to defeat the purpose of language, leaving people more confused than clarified when used. When one mutters, “wearable tech” the most common images that come to mind are smartwatches and Google Glass. The informed consumer may think of a Ralph Lauren Polo Tech shirt, or a hacker/maker may think of the lilypad and an Instructables project. Communication, ideation and advancement often become difficult when we all draw different references for the same term.
If you go to a store and ask politely, “where can I buy some wearable tech, please?” They might either point you out the door, or to their local display of Jawbones and Fitbit. These specific biometric trackers are just the beginning of where wearable technology can go. However, it seems as though we don’t have the vocabulary for universally communicating different types of products under that larger category. From haptic feedback blazers à la Billie Whitehouse, to 6th sense projection systems, the term wearable technology is becoming less and less specific, falling into a Tower of Babel-like confusion of tongues.
With this in mind, it seems useful to start being specific about wearables and sharing these specific terms and perceptions with others until we come to unified conclusions about meaning. At The Crated, we observe wearable technology falling into two categories. There are consumer products and enabling technologies for wearable tech. See the chart below to see how the term wearable tech can be broken down into several different categories.
By definition (according to the high and holy source of knowledge, Wikipedia), wearable tech refers to “clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies”. Yet the word technology is defined as “ the collection of techniques, methods or processes used in the production of goods or services …[and] can be the knowledge of techniques, processes, etc”. Continuing this Quicksort method of divide and conquer, let’s also look at the word wearable. This term in itself draws a blank on Wikipedia, alluding to recent fabrication. This seems logical. When was the last time you’ve used the word wearable to describe anything other than technology?
Looking at the individual words involved in this term, wearable technology as a combined phrase might actually be more accurately defined as a very broad phyla of objects that combine aesthetics and algorithms. With this mind, we see wearable technology as objects that live on the body and are advanced electronically, structurally or chemically.
Whether you disagree or are aligned with this view of the space, the important part of this definition is to realize that it’s mutable. The future of language is decided upon in the present and it’s up to us to create a lexicon that represents wearables as the eclectic taxonomy that it can be. How will we speak about wearable technology in 2020? You tell us.