Thanks, but I can see the view just fine from here.

Technology as Fashion: From Steampunk to Cybergoth

“The clothes make the man,” Mark Twain famously quipped.

While he followed directly with, “Naked people have little or no influence on society,” I have to wonder how seriously he took his observations about clothing (and about nudity, too, for that matter).

What is it about the right outfit that makes us feel so good?  Is it the unmistakable feel of high-quality fabric paired with high-quality tailoring that we deeply enjoy?  I’ve got a slick lambskin jacket that I look forward to wearing every fall.  Each time I put it on, an almost involuntary sigh of satisfaction escapes me.  Why is that?

The right ensemble can sweeten our mood, improve our manners, and even affect our posture.  Are the duds we don really responsible for all of these changes, or are the right threads less about material and more about identity?

And if fashion is about identity, what are we saying about ourselves when we replace lipstick with gas masks…


hairspray for electrical wiring…


working biology for mechanics…


and clear gender distinction for androgyny?


Are we saying we are destined to either perish from biological disaster or transform into sexless robots?  Because I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with that message.

Then again, advancements in genetics are used to both create and combat biological warfare, extensions of the human brain are readily available and expanding in ability and function, robotic enhancements of functional body parts are used by our military, and postgenderism is a common goal of many transhumanists.

But that gets me to thinking:

What if the Cybergoth, Steampunk and Cyberpunk fashion styles are not actually declarations of identity? What if they are reflections of technology itself – and its effect on our identity?  With the implications of mankind’s rapidly advancing scientific accomplishments barely explored (much less talked about in the main stream), how else does the average person deal with what’s happening around them?

The gas mask was the first thing that caught my attention when doing research for this entry.  How often we take for granted the vaccines we’ve invented that save so many lives.  Polio and scarlet fever aren’t threats to many of us anymore.  We even have vaccines for the flu and chicken pox.  Chicken pox – that’s new.  I don’t remember a chicken pox vaccine when I was a kid.  But there are downsides to all of these new developments, as the gas masks so aptly remind us.  Are we prepared for the consequences of our experiments with genetics?  Will a gas mask become a staple in everyone’s wardrobe?

It’s not as though an increasing dependence on technology is a new idea.  I go into panic mode without my cell phone – like I’ve lost a limb.  Maybe I should get my own cyberpunk headpiece with neon tubing and electric wiring.  At least then I would be able to express how intimately tied to technology I feel.  Sure, it might look strange to the standard crowd, but we’re all connected to it in some way.  Is disconnecting even an option anymore?  Are we willing to strip ourselves of the wires, to go technologically bald, to detach ourselves from the digital parts of our lives – the parts we are so enmeshed with that they feel like extensions of our own flesh?

And concerning gender, how much suffering would be spared the human race if gender distinction was eliminated all together?  What if a person could choose or change their gender traits according to their inclinations?  Perhaps social roles would shift or disappear entirely.  If humans were all androgynous, gender discrimination may become a thing of the past.  In light of the gender-related problems that plague humans as a species, is postgenderism a step towards world peace?  New technologies bring this possibility closer to reality than ever before; close enough to really consider.

Humanity as we know it is transforming.

In light of our changing world, I can’t help but ask myself if the Steampunks and Cybergoths aren’t on to something.  I mean, it’s not like they didn’t warn us, and if the end of humanity is coming, at least they’re dressed for it.


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2 responses

  1. You should check this out. It’s kind of related…

    September 19, 2011 at 12:52 am

  2. TCT

    I really enjoy the first few minutes of Kate Hartman’s presentation. While she approaches the subject with a fair amount of whimsy, the idea of using objects to relate to other people, ourselves, and even other objects, falls right in line with what I am trying to say about technology as fashion. The notion that we use fashion to relate an idea is what fascinates me. We don’t have to say anything about our relation to technology – the clothing we wear speaks for itself.

    September 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm

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