Wearables and stereotypes: gender, social class and more.
Written by Ottavia Verdirame
Wearables, what to say about them. It really all comes down to personal preference, whether to own them or not — smartwatches, Bluetooth headphones, Airpods, smart glasses and many more. However, after each and every new release of such tech products, society is slowly but surely changing and moulding accordingly. So, when does it stop being a personal choice and start being a way to fit in? Moreover, how has this influenced our lives, and continues to do so?
In this blog post I would like to discuss how wearables can influence the perception others have of an individual, assuming one’s status, amongst other factors. The interesting thing about this is that the main purpose of wearables is not and never has been that of ‘declaring’ one’s financial or societal status; in fact, wearables, particularly smart watches, were launched with the intent of being used as a way to make it easier to check one’s notifications without having to reach for the phone — perhaps even to avoid further distraction afterwards, as it so often happens that after checking one specific notification one is drawn to mindless scrolling through apps such as Facebook and Instagram. Despite it being so, wearables have been known to have a connotation of wealth, directed towards specific niche societal groups. One thing I have noticed, however, is that such connotations and assumptions are particularly made when it comes to big brands, specifically Apple; other big brands such as Samsung, despite having products very similar to those of Apple, do not ‘benefit’ of the same. In fact, in 2021 according to International Data Corporation, the top five wearable device companies by shipment volume and market share were as follows: Apple, Xiaomi, Samsung, Huawei, and Imagine Marketing.
Another aspect which I would like to discuss in this post is the constant gender stereotypes which keep on being present even in wearable technology. In fact, one of the disregarded groups that have been diminished with regards to the design and choices in technology are women. Technology and tools which are aimed at this group have often been marketed through the use of stereotypical colour schemes, e.g., ‘pinking’ (Schroeder, 2010). This gets me wondering, what are, then, the implications of diversity and inclusivity in wearable technology for women? Gender bias and stereotypes are continuously being contradicted in contemporary society. An example of this would be the performance artist Viktoria Modesta, who challenges the stereotypical image of being disabled by using wearable technology — but not like the ones I have mentioned so far. She makes use of stylised and personalized prosthetics. Research conducted in London investigates how wearables technology, besides being used for practical reasons, can also be used in order to create nonverbal communication, exploring also how physiological data aqu8ired from the body can be visualised and displayed. Wearing electronics on the body undoubtedly makes a statement about the person wearing them, especially in terms of their relationship with technology but not only, it also make a statement on how they want to be perceived by others. This could be defined as making a choice about personal style — such as wearing a certain piece of clothing or jewellery. Because of this, it is essential for designers to keep in mind that ‘not one size fits all’, therefore having to give wearers more than one option to choose from. Despite so being done, it is often made quite clear that certain versions of a given product are designer for one specific gender, not only with regards to the colour of the product, but also with regards to its packaging and more.
All in all, wearables are undoubtedly taking over society and changing our way of life. I don’t believe that is necessarily something negative, however there is still some work that needs to be done both with regards to affordability and inclusivity for certain groups in society.