Most companies working on smart fashion right now are trying to link your clothes to your devices. Google's Project Jacquard turns your jeans into a touchscreen; MIT is working on vibrating shoes that give you directions to your next destination.
Anatomic & Co, a men's footwear brand, thinks smart fashion is headed in the wrong direction—so it created Sociable Shoes. Instead of connecting your shoes to your smartphone, these dress shoes disconnect you, shutting down the constant pulse of incoming notifications so that you can focus on the present.
"The underlying idea behind the shoe was inspired by cognitive neuroscience and the fact our brains are ‘restructuring’ to shifts in technology and culture," says Duane Holland of DH Ready, the creative consultancy that created the Sociable Shoe concept for Anatomic & Co. "Our brains have shifted from memory-based learning to multitasking allowing us to manage multiple news feeds, across multiple platforms, on multiple devices. Technology is demanding more from us each day, so the only way for people and technology to get along is when it starts to get out of the way: essentially using technology to distract technology."
To anyone's eyes, the Sociable Shoe is a classic black leather brogue, suitable for wearing to a fancy restaurant, a gala, or the club. Inside the electric blue rubber sole is an Arduino chip, which communicates with an Anatomic & Co. app to control the notifications coming into your smartphone, only alerting you in case of an emergency. There are no switches or buttons to work on the Sociable Shoe: just wearing them is enough to switch your smartphone to silent.
As its name implies, the Sociable Shoe was created as a possible solution for the problem of mobile notifications constantly distracting people in social situations. "If you look around in a bar or restaurant you’ll see most people on their phones rather than engaging in face-to-face conversations with their full attentions," says Holland. "These shoes allow people to filter out unwanted notifications, whilst avoiding the anxieties of not turning your phone off completely."
The Sociable Shoe might be part publicity stunt, but the ideas being put forward here are smart. As our devices demand an ever-increasing amount of our attention, they also increase our anxiety. Holland sees the Sociable Shoe as an example of a "well-being wearable" that brings technology and mindfulness together to allow people to live more balanced lives. "What makes well-being wearables different is the fact that it gives technology a purpose based on real human desires and needs," he says. "It’s innovation which isn’t just about being more digitally connected, it’s about digital empathy."
The Sociable Shoe will launch on Kickstarter this summer as part of Atomic & Co's Beta Collection, a limited range of connected shoes, before scaling up to a full product launch, hopefully in early 2017, for a still unspecified price.