Beyond Health Trackers: A Brief History Of The Wearable

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
With so many wearable trackers for fitness, mindfulness, and pretty much everything else, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. But, a new Milk Studios exhibit asserts that these bracelets and glasses aren't anything to be stressed out about, because we've actually always had wearable technology — although maybe not in the ways we now expect.
The exhibit, titled "Adorned: The Shape of Things to Come," traces four areas of wearable technology progression through a collaboration with Intel called MUZSE. The vision section includes the usual contenders, such as an Oculus Rift and Google Glass. But, it also shows off a few less-well-known items that nonetheless signify important technological and/or social moments, such as the "life-logging" Narrative Clip.
The other sections also feature jaw-dropping modern innovations, such as the heart rate-monitoring Audio Biosport headphones (sound station), the fashion-inspired MICA bracelet (data section), and the gesture-controlled MYO armband (kinesthetic section). And, presiding somewhat creepily over each station is a historical example of wearable technology in that genre. For instance, an abacus ring hangs behind the data section and a pair of ballet shoes welcomes visitors to the kinesthetic area.
It becomes very clear, very quickly, that technology is inseparable from the culture that created it. Therefore, the first wearable tech is probably much older than we realize. "'Wearables' seems like a word that’s just invoked today; it seems like a new thing," says Rey Peralta, the chief creative technologist at Milk, "but what we wanted to do with this exhibit was to remind people that wearables have existed since the moment man decided to make something and put it on himself."
And, Legs Media's managing director, Adam Joseph, agrees: "It’s an interesting dynamic where sometimes technology...informs cultural shifts and sometimes cultural shifts inform technological shifts," he says. "Problems get solved and then...all these things, as they continue to progress, are also going to be a form of expression." It's that expression that the new exhibit captures, asserts Intel's Sandra Lopez. "It’s this interconnectivity of technology and society, feeding and informing each other," she says.
The exhibit is open in New York at 446 West 14th Street through this Saturday (December 13). Click through to see a few of our favorite bits of tech from the show.

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