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Wear Your Likes on Your Sleeve with These Social Textiles

Wallflowers take note: using thermochromatic dyes and haptic feedback, this fabric will alert you if someone in the room shares your same interests.

Our social media personas are like autonomous shadows, ghostly appendages that follow us at all times and show off who we are to others. Even the clothes we put on wear in real life, today, broadcast our identities in a way similar way to how we "wear" our personalities online. After mulling this two idea, researchers at MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group asked the question, “Is the current form of social media really making our relationships better?”

To delve into this problem, they created Social Textiles, a series of wearable computing fabrics that allow social messaging to appear front and center—on your shirt. “Social Textiles embodies who you are and dynamically reflects your shared interests with people nearby,” the team explains on the project's website. “It enables you to gain access to communities of people in the physical world and enhances social affordances and icebreaking interactions through wearable social messaging.” Comprised of thermochromic dye, haptic feedback, and human capacitance detection, the textile gives wearers a light “tap on the shoulder” when fellow Social Textilers are within 12-feet.

When two wearers high five or shake hands, they have the opportunity to gain “new features” and more information about each other. The thermochromic dye detects skin contact and visualizes it on the shirt. “It has the potential to enable members to bypass superficial or generic interests through 'filtering' individuals, to tune social experiences towards more compatible ones,” says Tangible Media Group. They give this sample scenario: Morgan, a fan of underground doom metal music who doesn’t have many friends who share his love of the genre dons a Social Textiles shirt that looks like a “regular black t-shirt.” He senses it vibrating in the workplace—as it turns out, Ben, who is walking toward him, also donning a black t-shirt, loves doom metal, too. Thus, a new connection based on similar interests has been forged.

The researchers believe the possible applications for this technology are limitless. See how Social Textiles work below, and dive into the team’s full study here:

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