Picture of a pair of Google Glass

What might the rise in wearable tech mean for the arts?

Once the hype around wearable technology dies down, how might it be used to create new experiences and augment existing ones?

Athina Balopoulou
Mar 28th 2014

This is a boom time for wearable technology. Alongside products such as Google Glass, the most popular use has been in fitness tracking with almost 40 million devices such as the Nike Fuelband, Fitbit and Jawbone UP were sold in 2013 with predictions that this will skyrocket to around 180 million by 2017 Ben Hammersley in his recent Wired article went so far as to call wearables the third wave of computing and thanks to wearables and other connected devices, it is becoming clear that our digital lives will no longer be limited to screens and boxes but will be increasingly embedded into our everyday experiences. 

What could this mean for the arts? 

Usage in the arts sector is still relatively new territory, but with barriers to entry only likely to go down, we can expect to see a rise in the use of wearable technology in the same way that we have seen artists and organisation engage with mobile in new and powerful ways. Wearable devices have the potential to not only affect the way we ‘consume’ cultural products but also the way we connect with artists and even re-imagine the creative experience itself.

So how are today’s generation of wearable technologies being used today?

Artist David Datuna’s recent piece ‘Viewpoint of Billions‘ provides a fascinating exploration of American history as told by  significant individuals whose contributions have helped form, guide and define the United States as a culture and a nation. These stories are exposed when wearing Google Glass thanks to the piece’s hundreds of embedded optical lenses.

Lightwave is a bracelet launched at SXSW this year which gathers real-time data about its wearer – temperature, movement and audio levels. This is then fed back to the musicians/performers and the audience itself through live visualisations, so that the band can make decisions (or not!) depending on how their audience is feeling. This is still an early technology but it points to new fascinating  and ambient ways in which performers and audiences might communicate with each other. 

More bespoke wearable technology is found in Blast Theory’s I’d Hide You which allows an online audience is able to interact with players/performers of a cross-city game through real-time through video by seeing what they can see.

On top of these new creative forms and new communication methods, wearable tech also opens up the possibility of using our biometric data to help validate identity for transactions such as ticketing and other identity-related aspects of the audience experience. This so-called ‘authenticated self‘ domain is already here in the form of fingerprint and retina scanning and the coming years may well see this technology move beyond immigration control desks in airports and into our cultural venues.

We would love to hear your ideas of how wearable technology could be used in the arts and also of your favourite examples of the pioneering work that has already been done.

Image of Google Glass thanks to Flickr user Lawrence Cegs