““Smart” Tech and Perceptual Pitfalls” – Hannah Harder
Pauline van Dongen’s clothing designs take postphenomenology as inspiration, aiming to highlight how materials and technology mediate our experiences in the world. Van Dongen describes her work as merging “use” with “being.” We often use clothes, or simply wear them without second thoughts, but this designer aims to reveal the capability of clothing to mediate our being in the world. Deriving heavily from Peter-Paul Verbeek’s postphenomenology, we do not just use media, nor does it determine society and culture wholly, but our experiences emerge alongside it as it affects our worldly experience. Everything mediates experience in one way or another, and there is a variation to how visible the mediation is and how striking the effect is on our perceptions and actions.
In Van Dongen and Toussaint’s text, the writers note that there are many “smart” clothings that have been made to push the boundaries of clothing and bring new media into wearability. These clothes do things like measure heart rates, promising the use of data as extending perception. The authors write, “Ironically, many smart fashion designs thus uphold the promise that data and self-tracking can make us more mindful of our bodies, while they in fact distract and disconnect us from our embodied subjectivity” (Toussaint and Van Dongen 2020). Smart clothes seem to bridge the gap between information and experience. But as apparatuses that circumvent our experiences, they exercise an agency that is “peripheral to consciousness and sense perception” (Hansen 2014, 38).
Mark B. Hansen writes about the complex networks that saturate contemporary culture in his text Feed Forward: On the Future of Twenty-First-Century Media (2014). Driven by postphenomenological objectivity, Hansen is concerned with the implications of our datafied society and the diverse networks that connect humans to machines and machines to other machines. This author writes that, while older media acted as a means to an end, contemporary media is no longer a mere tool, but behaves as an actor within extensive networks. One example Hansen uses is that of implanted sensors that monitor glucose in bodies. Similar to “smart” clothing, this technology acts as a mediator in that it mediates bodily information as machinic data, but leaves human perception out of the conversation. Contemporary machines run on micro temporalities and code that is unreachable for human perception without decoding. It strikes me that Van Dongen’s phenomenologically-concerned fashion recognizes these minute networks of connections that dictate our world through micro temporalities, data and anticipatory information. Instead, clothing for being in the world seems to shift the focus onto the mediations that we take for granted. Being “mindful,” as is the concern with Toussaint and Van Dongen, means being in our present sensibilities, without breaking our backs to become involved with the impossibly fast, datafied networks.
- Hansen, Mark B. N. 2015. Feed-Forward : On the Future of Twenty-First-Century Media. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Van Dongen, Pauline & Lianne Toussaint. (2020). In Touch with the Now – Stimulating Mindfulness through a Smart Denim Jacket. ArtEZ Platform for Research Interventions of the Arts (APRIA), 1 (1), (pp. 112-119). https://apria.artez.nl/in-touch-with-the-now/