It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. —Albert Einstein
I was getting ready to go to bed last night as my 18-year-old sat down at the computer. I’m old and go to bed early. He’s young and stays up late. The schedule works. As he sits down, though, I look up and realize I still have 24 tabs open. Yes, I need all of them, and maybe a few more.
“Please try to not crash my browser,” I warn him.
He looks over at the monitor and sees all the tabs then looks back at me sarcastically. “I’ll try.” I think there’s an eye roll implied.
I go on to bed with my cell phone under my pillow because that’s where I’ve set the alarm. About 30 minutes into my attempt at slumber, the phone dings; it’s a message from my son.
“There’s music playing from one of your tabs and I can’t figure out which one.”
This is where technology has brought us: music coming from unknown sources, fear over losing track of information we need, and putting our phones under our pillows. We are so indelibly linked to technology that we cannot even start our day without it. Technology does many, many wonderful things for us. Yet, technology often fails and when it does it can take down an entire business along with it. Fashion seems especially vulnerable as our reliance on social media and online shopping continues to grow. When technology fails, everything we’ve worked hard to achieve is put at risk.
Understating The Problem
We really don’t like to think about just how dependent we are upon technology and how vulnerable that technology makes us. Sure, somewhere in the back of our minds we know that were something to happen to the nation’s power grid life as we know it would be over. We just don’t like to think about that. Instead, we focus on slightly smaller, more immediate issues. For example, you probably shouldn’t use your new Samsung 7 phone on an airplane because it might explode. Or try to not think about the fact that the new iPhone 7 just rendered your $150 earbuds obsolete. We just won’t mention that little detail about a massive solar storm potentially wiping out all our technology. All of it.
One of the primary reasons that such a danger is so horribly frightening is because we don’t know how to do things without technology. Technology has been a part of our lives for so very long that entire generations have no clue that there are, or once were, analog alternatives to the things we do, such as sending messages, operating machinery, or farming. Knowledge that was once ubiquitous, such how to manage a large crop or working a loom or sewing a dress, is now increasingly rare as the generations that contained that information slowly dies off. No one is physically retaining that information. Sure, it’s written down somewhere and stored on a computer, but a helluva lot of good that does us if the computer is dead.
Industries such as fashion, which have become wholly invested in the latest technology through every facet of the business, would crumble immediately were the digital tools they use suddenly gone. Even design sketching, which is still a fundamental skill, is done almost exclusively in digital formats now. Take away that power source and we’re lost.
More Immediate Challenges
Investing in technology makes sense. Going digital is more efficient, allows greater flexibility, and reduces response times. I can’t imagine anyone saying that we shouldn’t embrace technology wherever we can. Even the Amish are making adjustments. However, there are times when our total reliance upon all things digital creates problems that can adversely impact what we’re doing.
I mentioned yesterday about problems various fashion labels were having with live streaming. Those challenges not only continued but in some cases became more severe. Twice yesterday we attempted to watch shows that were exclusively streamed on either Snapchat or Periscope. One of those shows, Thakoon, was pretty important. Yet, the technology served neither designer well. One stream was pixelated to the point of being useless. Not only could we not see detail, half the time we couldn’t even make out the silhouette of the pieces! I love cubism in art, but it doesn’t exactly work for a live fashion stream. For Thakoon (which we reviewed on Pattern), the technology was challenged by the fact the show was presented at night, outdoors, on the top of a building. In daylight, Periscope would probably have worked really well as a transmission and streaming method. At night, though, it left a LOT to be desired.
Fortunately, in both cases, a more reliable form of technology came to the rescue when still images were released. I love that photos can be made available almost as soon as they’re taken. With them, we can see the detail that is lost in streaming. The downside is that not every show that streams is covered by the photo services.
Designers are also vulnerable when it comes to the corporate stability of the social media platforms on which they depend. We forget that young technology companies are not necessarily profitable even though they may be popular. While rumors swirl that Snapchat might be preparing for an IPO, Twitter’s stock is tanking, raising speculation that it might be for sale and that its CEO could be ousted. Nothing is ever certain with technology firms.
Hedging Our Bets
I still hold on to a film camera, as do several other photographers. As much as the industry has moved into digital formats, there is a strong feeling that the apocalypse will be captured on film. Photographers can be a real doom-and-gloom bunch. At least we still have options, though. Not every industry does. Medical fields would be decimated without modern technology used to find solutions for new diseases. Fast fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M would have no choice but to close if they had to wait on every garment to be hand cut and sewn.
This is why makers programs such as the one at Pattern are so important. We need to not only cultivate skills, we need to make sure they’re being taught to younger generations. This doesn’t mean that we ignore technology or put it on a back burner by any means. Rather, we celebrate the artisanal aspects of doing things by hand and preserving industries that might otherwise die if everything digital were suddenly unavailable.
Technology is wonderful. I wouldn’t be able to share this message without it. But technology fails and we need to maintain alternate methods for when it does.