Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Technology as material culture?

Blogging has certainly been on the backburner this last year while I have been preparing my applications for graduate school.  Now, however, that they are all submitted and I am anxiously awaiting interviews and/or acceptance/rejection (I die...) notices, my brain has been churning about what I really think I would like to study if admitted.  Before graduating in 2010, I began to study lower and middle class working women at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Since I never got the chance to fully explore the topic the way it should it has always been on my mind for future study.  Recently, however, I have been thinking a lot about technology and material culture, or rather, technology AS material culture.  Questions like, "How has technology changed the fashion world? How has technology changed how society views material things? Has the curation of style and persona on fashion blogs and social media sites shifted young society's perception of self-expression from how you dress to what you blog about or post pictures of?" 

The strong correlation between what you wear everyday to your percieved identity is one of the reasons I wanted to study fashion.  Clothes are made with the intention to be used everyday, to be practical or functional, but dress (ie clothes, shoes, glasses, jewelry) is also the most accessible form of self-expression. And unless you live in a nudist colony, you are required everyday (by law) to make a choice of what you want to put on your body.  The choices you make about your appearance leave instant impressions on those you encounter whether you intend for that or not. So, how has technology changed this notion of how people express their identity in an ever growing youth culture where what you "like" on Facebook supposedly lets the world know what type of person you are?

The fashion world imparticular has been impacted hugely by this shift.  Today, I can watch fashion shows almost instantaneously with the editors and stylists sitting in the front row, but I get to do it in the comfort of my bedroom on my laptop.  The speed at which this type of sharing happens is mind-boggling when one contemplates how long the ladies of the 19th century had to wait for fashion plates from Paris in order to know what was in vogue. I can get on sites like style.com and click through all the images of the Paris couture shows faster than the length of time it takes for one show to start and end.

To sum this string of thoughts up the question that concludes in my mind is, "Has the concept of materiality shifted to a 2-D, digital realm instead of the notion that physical objects and ownership of those objects is a form of self-expression?" I'm sure that it has not shifted completely, so rather the question should be is there new form of material culture to consider when studying fashion and technology?

I leave you with this picture I saw on The Retronaut last week. I have always said I wish we still wore hats that required hat pins.. And this is definitely a new reason why.

Using a hat pin for self-defence in 1904 = awesome.
"Oh you think a fair lady that can be taken advantage of? Think again..."