Media Uniforms and RFID Tags: The Future of Japanese Wearable Technology? (Interface Humanities)

Hand with the planned location of the RFID chipImage from WikipediaThe study of Interface Humanities is a form of study introduced by Osaka University president and published philosopher, Kiyokazu Washida among others. The basis behind Interface Humanities seems to be the study of our use of interfaces and how they redefine “self” and “other.” Moreover, I think it can be the study and criticism of our uses of these interfaces, technological critiques and ethical considerations. It is sad that most of the research done in Japan has not been translated into English. However, there is a relevant online journal with both English and Japanese called “Nature Interface,” which can be found here: Nature Interface. Given time, I will do my best to translate some Japanese articles into English. Today, I will be briefly talking about wearable technology as presented in an issue of “Nature Interface.”

The article that I read discusses the idea of “Media Uniforms,” which are uniforms with wearable computers or displays such as ID tags or RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). The article seems to take a very innocent and positive approach to the idea of “wearable interfaces” and provides no critique of its possible harmful consequences.

The first point made in the article is the gap between engineers and fashion designers, that is, the lack of a strong fashion point in the marketing of the computerized clothing. They seem to be suggesting that given the support of a good designer, the idea of wearable technology would become more appealing to youth culture. It doesn’t seem to hard to imagine wearable-computerized interfaces spreading through Tokyo.

Second, the idea that “RFID Tags Can Make Management Easier” is brought up. That is, the company that is being talked about in the article (CHIKUMA Ltd.) state that they recycle old uniforms using them to experiment with and/or transform them into usable material for projects in different fields (as they say: acoustic and heat insulators). Also, with the implementation of RFID tags, the person who disposes of a certain piece of clothing can be tracked and an evaluation of the disposal method can be made in accord with environmental concerns. In this way, they are apparently promoting responsibility and environmental care. It should be noted that they are apparently not talking about one’s personal clothing, but with uniforms, perhaps owned by a company (i.e. the disposal and re-use of a security uniform would be monitored).

The third point made in the article is the idea of “Uniforms with Real-Time Advertisement Display.” For example, Tommy Lee Jones recently did an advertising campaign here in Japan for BOSS can coffee. Imagine, you go to the convenience store and buy a can of BOSS coffee. Upon checking out, your can is scanned and lo-and-behold, on the chest of the part-time high school student working behind the counter, a computerized screen turns on and there is Tommy Lee’s smiling face thanking you for buying the coffee. Or, as is suggested in the article, upon renting a certain DVD, when scanned, a transmission is sent from a computer in the rental shop to your wearable interface giving you a free movie preview of an upcoming film by the same company that funded the film that you just rented.

In this way, CHIKUMA Ltd. is wishing to pave the way for a new form of wearable-computerized advertising technology. Instead of the static print advertisement, a moving full-color interactive wearable-computerized advertisement, portable and perhaps personalized to your consumer habits. What interests me is this positive approach to this article gives no form of criticism or concerns. Perhaps, if I read deeper into “Nature Interface,” I will find some answers, but for now I will have to create some probes of my own.

The idea of a track-able and monitored uniform further fragments the self while obliterating personal privacy. Not to mention, viral attacks, system errors or identity theft come to mind as valid possible problems. Moreover, how is the experience of self and other affected by this intrusion of privacy? With the RTAD, what possible consequences do you see? Could someone not perhaps track one’s consumer habits, store those habits while using them to collect data? Does this not already happen in our internet shopping experience? Furthermore, what are hegemonic consequences of what gets advertised and what doesn’t? What happens to the smaller companies with no capital to push their products on the wearable advertising market? I think that, being the visually minded creatures that we are, there is something much more alluring about a moving display as opposed to a static T-shirt advertisement. That is to say, there is a big difference between wearing a T-shirt of the band U2 and having one of their music videos being played on your wearable uniform? I can just imagine a store clerk at a corporate music store having to wear a uniform with an increasingly annoying two minute loop of “new and hot releases.”

I am an amateur when it comes to examining RFID tags. If you wish to share links, please do. Thank you for reading. The original article that I dissected today can be found here: Case Study: From Japan – Wearable Computers That Have Started to Approach Our Daily Life