Can you imagine rewriting what has always been? That we are born, we grow up, we age, and then we die. Well, thanks to technological disruption, like implants and robotics, innovators are not only exploring what it means to be human, they are also opening us up to a world where the augmented humanity and the human body will help us build upon our most potent humanistic attributes.
Rethinking and Reimagining the Body
It is no secret that humanity has continuously focused on extending human capabilities when it comes to the Augmented Human. This need to rethink and reimagine the human body has led to questions like how close will we live with technology in the future? How will we utilise it? And how will it change us? Maybe we are headed towards a world where bodily enhancements will be the next step in our evolution.
“By 2040, technological possibilities to augment ourselves will be at its highest point.”
If we look back into the history of evolution, we see that our body has been adapting to changing circumstances for a long while now. So it comes as no surprise that a recent Imperial College report predicts that by 2040, technological possibilities to augment ourselves will be at the highest point. Although a scary prospect for some, to augment one’s body is going to be influenced by both developments in technology and fashion.
Described as being at the intersection of fashion, technology and architecture, the conversation around the augmented human is nothing new. Considered relatively underground and out of the box, when one does take a closer look, they will come to realise that we have been augmenting our body for a long time now. The difference is that the new movement is more focused on functionality, and we are more familiar with the non-functional augmentation of our body, like plastic surgery.
Before putting ourselves under the knife became the norm, the corset was a great example of how fashion has allowed us to change our body, albeit in a non-functional way, to fit in with fashionable trends. Adopted by mainstream consumers, the corset was an instrument designed to augment the woman’s body for vanity purposes rather than functional ones. Decades since the corset became unfashionable, I feel that we have started to move away from non-functional as we head towards a future were functional wearables will be merging with the human body and disrupting what it feels be human.
Using the Body As A Vehicle
Breaking boundaries by approaching the human body differently, we see developments in technology that influenceS how the human form could evolve shortly. We only have to look at movies to get an idea of how technology will be integrated into our evolution. Sure, some might argue that films like Ghost in the Shell are pure science fiction, but the truth of the matter is that people are already becoming ‘superhuman’.
“The superhuman phenomena is due to science populating the human body with powerful technologies.”
The superhuman phenomena is due to science populating the human body with powerful technologies. A great example of this is Aimee Mullins, an amputee who was once quoted as saying that her unique “cheetah” legs gave her superpowers. She is not alone in feeling this way. We are witnessing many amputees taking advantage of robotics and emerging technologies that are rapidly ushering in an era of human augmentation that is no longer about replacing one’s leg but more about giving someone a human enhancement makeover in the shape of a limb that is better than their ‘natural’ one.
Besides replacing limbs with advanced prosthetics, augmentation of the body also has us leaping towards a future where embedded technology will treat various illnesses. This has so far included restoring vision in blind patients suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa. Promising to give numerous people a new lease of life, you cannot deny that the augmented body is a definite step on the current wearable technology trend. But they are still sceptics who question whether replacing our body parts with technology makes us less human. Does this mean that the new human who has had cybernetic enhancements will become indistinguishable from the technology itself in the future?
Extending Human Capabilities and Altering How and What We Strive to Design For Ourselves
Imagine augmenting your body, not for fashion but convenience. The changes might not make you look more attractive but rather serve the purpose of making your life easier. This is something that Corpus 2.0 explored. They had an exhibition at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, where they showcased a future where we alter our body to adapt to individual needs.
The Corpus 2.0 project looked at the possibilities of the designed body by showcasing various shocking images. One of them was a woman with a smoking hole that made it convenient for her when she wanted to smoke. It also meant that she would be able to recognise other smokers who would bear the exact change. Another image showed a woman with a high-heel foot. A rather scary-looking photo, the objective of the enhancement was to make sure that we will wear our favourite Choos pain free because our feet are shaped in the design of our favourite shoes.
Then there is A.Human, a futuristic fashion brand whose concept is less about convenience and more about changing your body as you would your clothes. Foreseeing a world where fashion will be crucial when it comes to the augmented body, A.Human stands out because they are designed for the body through the language of fashion.
Driven by the belief that the future of fashion could be futuristic body modifications, the brand shuns traditional apparel in favour of body modifications. Cleverly, A.Human found a way of getting the brand mainstream recognition by roping in celebrities like Kim Kardashian to create a buzz around their wearable art. Founder Simon Huck not only got the reaction he wanted, but his collection was also a conversation starter that raised questions like, is this a trend that you can see yourself adopting in the near future?
The Fashion Tribe 2.0: Science Fiction of Today is the Technology of Tomorrow
It is no secret that fashion embraces the tribe mentality. We all belong to some style tribe that allows us to identify with those who dress like us and listen to the same music. Well-known fashion tribes that we are all quite familiar with include goths, punks, hippies, hip hop and, of cause the Harajuku.
As we make our way into a future, wearable technology could very likely be determined; I foresee a change that will give birth to new tribes that will offer an alternative culture to what we are used to. These new tribes will evolve from where we are now- the device is in our hand to it being implanted in our body. They will be identified as Visible, Embedded and Invisible.
The Visible tribe will wear their augmented body changes like a badge of honour. Their cyber enhancements will make a loud and proud fashion statement. The Visible tribe’s augmented decisions will be based not on how the tech looks but on what abilities it gives them. The modifications they make will not only be focused on enhancing their ‘natural’ body, but the technology they adopt will also be part of their identity. So, in a nutshell, the Visible tribe will be less about vanity and more about disrupting what it means to be human.
You will be able to recognise the Embedded tribe by how their technology sits under their skin. Not quite visible, they view augmenting their bodies as a legitimate kind of futurism. Similar to the current biohackers whose hands or wrists are implanted with tiny radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, in the future, the Embedded tribe will be able to take advantage of the shrinking technology, which means if they choose too, they would have the option of making it invisible, something that isn’t possible today.
The Invisible tribe will take a different stance when it comes to augmenting their bodies. They make sure to blend in still and look ‘normal’. Their enhancements will not be noticeable; they prefer the camouflaged approach to technology, where they can reap the benefits without having to look less human. Evolving the human body is about enhancing it functionally while still staying true to its natural form.
These new tribes will be designed to adapt to a wired, sensor-filled, and digitally connected environment. They will be part of a trend that will be focused on enhancing our body and mind and making sure that we are always connected to the internet to control the environment around us.
So why do it? One of the reasons it could become fashionable to augment the human body is that it is an excellent form of self-expression. Also, it would help us connect to others and the environment around us while improving our quality of life. You will no longer have to imagine a more robust, more intelligent, more resilient you because your new abilities will give you the kind of ‘superpowers’ that you never imagined possible. Now I ask again if you could change your body as quickly as you would change your clothes, would you?
[First published on FashNerd in 2019]
Founding editor-in-chief of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta is currently one of the leading influencers writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology. She has also given talks at Premiere Vision, Munich Fabric Start and Pure London, to name a few. Besides working as a fashion innovation consultant for various fashion companies like LVMH Atelier, Muchaneta has also contributed to Vogue Business, is a senior contributor at The Interline and an associate lecturer at London College of Fashion, UAL.