Social Textiles: Wearable Networks by MIT Tangible Media

social interactive textile shirt

On social networks many of us already wear our proverbial hearts on our digital sleeves, but what if that translated back into a physical representation – something that augmented our interactions, notified us of nearby friends and activities or helped break the ice between secondary connections in real life?

social textiles usage possibilities

A joint project of the MIT Fluid Interface Group and Tangible Media Group, this project attempts to bridge the gap between clothing and devices, utilizing our mobile machines in our pockets or hands to do the heavy computational and network lifting but displaying the results on shirts or other items of apparel.

social textile meet greet

Beyond that, though, there are elements of physical interaction – touching the activated cloth not only changes patterns but can also change relationships, letting you add ‘friends’ to your network just by making contact (or showing who your mutual friends may be via light-up text displays).

social textiles interaction scheme

social textile letters words

“If you think about it, our Facebook and Twitter profiles reach and even impact thousands of people every day, but it doesn’t feel like it,” Kan, representing the group, tells me. “But while the way we represent ourselves in social media is intangible, what we wear isn’t. We wanted to see if we could merge the two to create social catalysts.”

social textiles color changing

From FastCo: “For many, fashion is already something of a way of communicating to others that you’re part of a secret club. Social Textiles could take that concept to the next level, buzzing and flashing on the club floor when a like-minded club kid bumps into you. But the Social Textiles team also sees their invention being useful at more structured events like freshman meet-and-greets, company picnics, industry conferences, and so on. After all, meeting new people is hard enough. Why not let your clothes do some of the work for you?

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See more in Industrial Design or under Technology. March, 2015.