Toronto Star

A fashion statement that merges man with machine

- CAIT THOMPSON

Is your cellphone a part of you? Maybe not yet, but it could be soon. Technology, used in conjunctio­n with the human body, is already here, in the form of pacemakers, hearing aids and prosthetic­s, but what’s the next step? Enter: Wearable computers. Of course, we already have a pretty steady connection to the Internet via personal digital assistants (like the BlackBerry) and the instant message phenomenon has proven that most of us are eager to stay in constant contact with everyone we know. So why go wearable? Isn’t it enough to carry a phone or PDA in your pocket? The answer is this: I can respond to my cellphone whenever I want, but I can’t remember the last time my phone responded to me. It doesn’t monitor my biological functions or brain activity and respond accordingl­y, and I’ve had just about enough. “If only there were some way to merge man and machine,” I say to myself. Stelarc, an Australian performanc­e artist, has been saying the same thing to himself for some time now. He claims that the human body is obsolete and so has been merging himself with various technologi­cal inventions since the ’70s. It may sound like science fiction, but his robotics are fully functional. (After all, don’t most of the best endeavours start out as science fiction?) If Stelarc is right, then it’s about time we start keeping our computers where they should be; on ourselves. Wearable computers are being developed for different purposes all over the world. The hot ticket for developers right now is the microchip MP3 player that’s actually a part of your jacket. While it may not sound quite as advanced as cyborg machinery, it’s a clear step in that direction. The human fetish for electronic­s finds us trying to get closer and closer to machines in ways similar to the MP3 jacket. And why not? Every step forward in the field of electronic­s seems to make our lives easier and, on the whole, better. So it makes sense that we love technology enough to want to get close to it, to want to embrace it, to want to become a part of it and have it become a part of us. But I think we can do better than a jacket that plays music. There are so many more practical and impactful uses for wearable computers that focusing on a singing sweater seems a little silly.

Researcher­s like Steve Mann, a professor at U of T, are working to bridge the gap between man and machine, developing wearable computers that create a “mediated reality” for the user by biomonitor­ing and “personal imaging.”

The obvious advantages of such systems lie in health care and communicat­ions, giving us better methods of caring for our sick and increasing the “superconne­ctivity” factor when it comes to how we stay in touch with people and informatio­n.

The rate of informatio­n transfer has evolved in a very big way in the past 10 to 20 years. Remember the days when you’d have to find a pay phone if you needed to contact someone from outside your home? It’s a seemingly distant past to my generation who have had the luxury of instant communicat­ion (from virtually any location) for as long as we’ve had social lives.

Of course, there are dangers when it comes to technologi­cal and mechanical connectivi­ty. There’s a risk of decreased human-to-human contact as we become more and more reliant on computer interfaces, and of course there are those pesky wires and cold metal; but they’re still working out the kinks.

What this really means is that humans are taking evolution into their own hands. We’ve figured out that quicker transmissi­on of informatio­n equals more knowledge and faster turnover in activities. And technology is keeping pace with our growing need for connection. It’s simply not acceptable to wait for informatio­n in this day and age. If I want to know something, I want to know it now, not when I can find a library or get home to use the Internet. It only makes sense that the next step in our technologi­cal evolution is constant “anywhere” access to anything we want to know.

The brain uses electrical impulses to begin with, so is it so crazy to feel aconnectio­n to computers and other electronic devices? Let’s make 2008 the year to cuddle up with high-tech science. Global culture is moving forward at full speed when it comes to combining what we are naturally and what we construct technologi­cally; and resistance is futile.

 ?? JOSH REYNOLDS/AP ?? Yochinari Takegawa of Japan’s Kobe University demonstrat­es a heads-up display and keyboard that allows quick typing of Japanese characters during an Internatio­nal Symposium on Wearable Computers in Boston recently.
JOSH REYNOLDS/AP Yochinari Takegawa of Japan’s Kobe University demonstrat­es a heads-up display and keyboard that allows quick typing of Japanese characters during an Internatio­nal Symposium on Wearable Computers in Boston recently.

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