May 13, 2007

Signs of Movement

I attended the 2007 @issue conference a few weeks ago and was treated to an hour of the technology forecaster Paul Saffo.

Among many interesting things, he urged the audience to look for societal/technological precursors, products or services that point to some greater trend or development. I'm just an amateur observer, and nowhere near Saffo's league or level, but I did find it interesting that my Oakland Transbay bus is now equipped with Wi-Fi.

It's a step closer to that omnipresent network, that lifeline we become more dependent on each day. Saffo had an interesting point about this: as soon as a technology reaches a certain level of convenience and availability, we adapt so throroughly that it becomes indispensable.

So, it's not a stretch to see the day will come soon when all of us, not just the geek elite, "count on" our commutes to take care of all manner of important business, like paying bills, making reservations and locating our kids via their GPS phones. Goodness, can you imagine? The bus network is down!


The other day a co-worker brought in a shirt she had purchased at Long's. That's not really news, you can buy lots of stuff at that store, but I was struck by the shirt's design--it reminded me of those $125 models you find in trendy boutiques--and how it managed to make its way to a drugstore chain.

I read a decent NYT article last week about how stores like Forever 21, Zara and H&M have accelerated the time it takes for a particular design to go from designer to discount store. Those chains can put a piece "inspired" by a big name into malls worldwide in around six weeks. This shirt seemed to be an even more egalitarian example; you can get your Mylanta, nail clippers and designer T in just one trip.

So, I wonder how far the high-level designers will get squeezed out of the fashion business, since now people can design their own clothes and retail chains can put new items into the market so quickly.

I can see the day when you'll piece together graphic and fit elements online and just send them to a manufacturer/retailer. Or perhaps, like Threadless, brands will cut out the middleman and just get their stuff directly from the street.

I can see some basic analogies with the entertainment industry. Perhaps the Marc Jacobs and Lagerfelds of the world are singing to an ever smaller and smaller audience. Then again, with their uncanny ability to synthesize past and present, and the enormous marketing clout behind them, maybe they'll just go on staying on top. People like status symbols, and they like to have other people do things for them, something I try to remember when thinking about this crazy, customized, DIY world we live in today.

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