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Intel's Genevieve Bell Wants You to Think About Why We Wear Technology

Wearable technology is a really, really old idea.

Asa Mathat

Wearing things to augment our physical selves is almost as old as humanity, but to get where wearable technology is going next, you have to understand the “why,” Intel corporate strategy VP and in-house anthropologist Genevieve Bell said today at the Code/Mobile conference at The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

 An illustration of a chatelaine
An illustration of a chatelaine
Courtesy Genevieve Bell

There are three motivations that matter right now in wearables, Bell said: Empowering and augmenting what our bodies can already do; enabling new connections with other people and things; and communicating our identities and attitudes. She pointed to the historical example of chatelaines, chains attached to a woman’s belt that were “highly modular” and able to carry or link to everything from jewelry to sports accessories to children.

“Battery life is really important,” she said. “But the other kind of power, the why, is important too. What does the object say about us?”

Bell came to Intel in 1998 and in 2011 wrote a book about computers and sensors becoming completely ubiquitous in our world, an idea that’s becoming truer and truer by the day. Intel itself has previously experimented with sensor-laden “smart” shirts that can measure a user’s heart rate.

“One of the really important things bodies do for human beings is that they are the place where we talk about who we are,” Bell added.

Wearables are an important theme this year at Code/Mobile, with upcoming speakers including Fitbit CEO James Park and Apple Pay VP Jennifer Bailey. Yesterday, Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman said his company is increasingly seeing itself as a data company rather than a hardware one.

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