Social Textiles (all images courtesy Fluid Interfaces and Tangible Media Group)

Social Textiles (all images courtesy Fluid Interfaces and Tangible Media Group)

At more than one recent party, I’ve found myself uttering the same awkward phrase: “I know you from Twitter.” Our social media presences, it seems, precede us, but we’ve yet to find a way to work our prior knowledge elegantly into IRL conversation (or at least, I’ve yet to).

Social Textiles, a project from the Tangible Media Group and Fluid Interfaces group at MIT, attempts to rectify this problem, integrating interpersonal and online interactions more seamlessly than ever before. The initiative, headed by students working in the MIT Media Lab, creates wearable social media. Using thermochromatic ink, a soft circuit, and Bluetooth, Social Textiles link items of clothing to their wearers’ smartphones and alert them when other Social Textiles users with similar interests are in close proximity. If one user touches the person with whom he or she has shared interests, the clothing lights up. So far, Social Textiles has only been put into practice as in T-shirt form, but the technology could be integrated with other clothing items in the future, FastCoDesign reported.

How Social Textiles work.

On their website, the Fluid Interfaces team writes that they hope their projects will create more continuity between virtual and face-to-face interactions, closing the gap between digital and “real” friendship. “We rely on computers and smart mobile devices for nearly every aspect of our lives, yet the way we interact with them has not changed significantly since personal computers were first invented,” they explain. “The Fluid Interfaces research group radically rethinks human-computer interaction with the aim of making the user experience more seamless, natural and integrated in our physical lives.” With the Internet of Things and projects like Microsoft’s holographic computing headset on the horizon, Social Textiles is one more step towards the convergence of the virtual and the physical.

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Becca Rothfeld

Becca Rothfeld is assistant literary editor of The New Republic and a contributor to The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Daily News’ literary blog, The Baffler, and...

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