Wednesday, July 10, 2013

New Trends in Consumer Technology: Stealth Wear

Now You See Me . . .

One aspect of the trend toward photo conversing that I didn't broach in my last post has to do with privacy issues, a big, fat, open can of worms pertaining to social media that most social media pundits would rather not have to deal with.  But threats to privacy comprise the dark underside of all the fun stuff - the content creating and sharing that we read and hear about every day.

Perhaps the one emerging technology that has aroused the most serious concerns related to photo and video sharing is the potential for unsolicited and unrevealed image taking by wearers of Google Glass --the head-mounted glasses that have the capacity to shoot video, take pictures, and broadcast what the wearer is seeing to the world by uploading the content to the Internet within seconds.  Just as legislation appears to be doomed to failure when it comes to regulating new technology that enables peer-to-peer file swapping, I imagine that lawmakers will experience even more difficulty controlling the use of wearable recording and sharing appliances.

Short of trying to reason with image thieves (as I sometimes do when I'm with a Facebook user who
pulls out his or her iPhone to catch me on camera - 'uhn uhn'), there is, however, an emerging alternative:  'stealth wear,' a term used to describe clothing and accessories designed to protect the wearer from detection and surveillance.  In short, stealth wear encompasses a number of products that provide a technological solution for offer individuals privacy, such as hoodies and cloaks that use reflective, metallic fabric that promise to reduce a person's thermal footprint.  Another is a purse that sports extra-bright LEDs that can be activated when in the presence of someone who is attempting to take an unwanted photo or video.  Developed by stealth wear pioneer Adam Harvey, a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York, the effect of the lights-activated purse is to reduce an unwarranted photo to a washed-out blur (see image below).

Of course, this sort of product is the worst nightmare of paparazzi whose targets brandish such stealth devices.  On the other hand, I could never understand why stars and celebrities are so concerned about paparazzi in the first place - if you don't want your photo taken, don't be a damn celebrity.  As my fellow Baltimorean John Waters once pointed out, what's the point of being famous if you don't want people running after you all the time and invading your privacy?

To check out some other examples of Adam Harvey's stealth fashion, such as the 'anti-drone burqa' (below), be sure to visit his website.

Some other examples of stealth products include the following:

  • a visor fitted with LEDs that emit light capable of blinding some camera sensors and blurring the details of a wearer's nose and eyes  (National Institute of Informatics in Japan)
  • a lenscap accessory for people who do not want to be recorded while conversing with a Google Glass wearer, the latter of whom is asked to use the lens covering (vs. removing the glasses) so that no taping or photographing would occur during the interaction (Todd Blatt)
 More performance art than serious stealth wear examples are these urban camouflage creations by Japanese designer Aya Tsukioka - a skirt that camouflages the wearer as a soda machine and a  backpack that conceals a child behind something that mimics a Japanese-style fire hydrant:

Stealth wear innovators are currently encountering a marketing challenge in that high tech fashion of any kind has not yet caught on with consumers, be it stealth wear devices or tech-savvy haute couture, such as clothing embedded with illuminated lights.  One possible explanation for the mild level of enthusiasm for stealth wear is that many people just don't care all that much about their privacy, a point elaborated on by Frank Rich in one of his recent New York essays.  As Rich convincingly argued, 'spying is only spying when the subject doesn't want to be watched.'  And it seems that people are falling all over themselves posting photos of themselves and friends on social media, whether they are flattering or not.  When people stop caring about their privacy, they're in big trouble, whether they know it or not.

Now You Don't.

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