Inside Out: the softer side of smart clothing
We have written several posts about advances in smart clothing and innovative materials improving our lives in myriad tangible ways, but what about their ability to help with some of the issues that we may have that are more fuzzy and below the surface? Can fashion tech go further to improve the lives of those who may be grappling with some emotional issues as well? In the past two years there have been several exhibits that have touched upon the potential of reading emotionally spurred physiological cues - namely the Coded Couture show this past spring and the TechStyle show last summer. This should not lead you to believe that more emotionally tuned-in creations have to be relegated to the theoretical worlds of art museums and scientific experiment. Pioneers in the field of wearable tech have already begun to develop garments that will read emotional cues, assist with psychological issues and physical ailments, and get the the heart of what ails us.
products that have the potential to change lives
SenseWear Clothing produces a collection of garments and accessories to help alleviate stress and also evaluate the emotional condition of the wearer so that they or their caregivers can attend to their needs before a situation escalates. Their work is inspired by sensory therapies addressing Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) often associated with autism and Asperger syndrome.
Kristi Kuusk creates garments with touch sensitive technology such as Vibe-ing which uses vibration technology to heal the body. Sensors and conductive fibers knit into the garment respond to the wearer to stimulate pressure points to relieve tension. It is meant to be a means of self care that can be used in everyday life.
Empatica's Embrace wristband is designed to help seizure sufferers manage their health condition. The device does this by monitoring electrodermal activity which is present during times of stress, fear, anxiety, and even happy excitement. This data is tracked and analyzed, and the device will even making real-time suggestions to help the wearer avoid a potential episode by sending them a signal to take a moment to relax if possible.
In addition to fabrics utilizing conductive material to communicate or record info about the wearer, there are also projects in the works to react to the wearer's environment in regards to stress triggers. There are even wearables that are using scent based therapies.
It seems the sky is the limit as far as the potential to improve the lives of wearers, and the designers, inventors and creatives pursuing the next big breakthrough in wearable technology are continually coming up with new ideas.
“In the future wearable technology could be designed to be more responsive, and may be able to relieve patients from various health conditions...”
- Emanuela Corti of Sense-Wear Clothing
The future of wearables in psychology and ethical dilemmas to consider
Whenever such big strides in technology are made, there is always a need to weigh the benefits against the potential pitfalls. Advances in in science, especially medicine, are rife with ethical dilemmas that beg consideration before proceeding. Some of the advances in wearable tech could have far-reaching repercussions, both positive and negative.
A few examples:
How will doctor/ patient relationships be affected if people can self diagnose to a much larger degree?
How can it affect treatment if patients can be monitored continually - perhaps greater freedoms for patients that at one time would have had personal monitoring, but it could also be an egregious invasion of privacy.
Could patients suffering from anxiety or other emotional issues be made more vulnerable if someone willing to exploit them could tell what was going on inside?
Several notable experts in this field have explored issues ranging from whether or not the tracking of data is really improving our lives to the social, ethical, and legal ramifications of such technology in the medical field. I had a chance to speak with Jocelyn Scheirer, an early pioneer of emotional applications for wearable tech, and I asked about her thoughts on wearables for treatment of mental illness. She pointed out that this technology is still in its infancy, but does think we should proceed with caution, and brought to mind the age old quandary whenever confronted with new technology: just because we can doesn't mean we should - at least not without some kind of regulatory ground rules of ethics. Although she has been involved in a number of wearable technology labs herself, she has voiced her concern before about the possible abuse of this much available information on an individual.
Still, Jocelyn thinks there is plenty of benefit to be gained if the correct regulations are in place. Most of the products available at the moment measure physical manifestations of emotional changes like distress. Jocelyn thinks the most promising work dealing with mental illness is still in the lab stage, with a lot of psychological studies to be done. There is work being accomplished in using wearables to collect data in order to determine a diagnosis for bipolar disorder; so far the work has had a 60-80% accuracy rate. To see more of Jocelyn's work or to get in touch visit her site.
Currently, a patient is evaluated by a psychologist or psychiatrist with that doctor's educated opinion and using a checklist of symptoms found in the Diagnostic Manual (DSM). An instrument for measuring physical data could be a step closer to a more accurate and consistent pattern of diagnosis. This could have positive applications for those with bipolar disorder, autism, and schitzophrenia, among other illnesses. Jocelyn was quick to point out, though, that current technology measuring the physical signs of stress would exhibit the same whether those stressers were internal or external triggers. That means that there would be so many other factors to consider when using this technology as a standard for diagnosis - even something as simple as what the patient is currently thinking could sway the test. For the moment we will have to wait for technology to catch up if we want to truly wear our heart on our sleeve.
Technology has the potential to dramatically change the lives of many people struggling with emotional disorders. I would be very interested to know if you think this advancement is worth some of the risks.
Let us know your thoughts below!
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