One of my friends emailed me this morning to ask about some research she was doing into the history of women’s participation in “technological” careers, wondering what was considered “high tech” 30, 40 and 50 years ago, and reminiscing about professional life before cell phones and computers and a global communications network. When I started in magazine publishing, we typed our copy onto paper, including the appropriate codes that would tell our typesetter’s equipment which fonts to use for that text, and then he’d drive by in his old green pickup to deliver the printed copy. A keyliner would cut it up and paste it into page layouts.
Admittedly, it’s a lot faster to create digital files and share them with our design team upstairs. However … on afternoons when we were working late to get an issue out, Bill would also bring us a pizza if requested.
Smart technology makes for great tools, although I have absolutely no interest in having my refrigerator verbally advise me that it needs to be cleaned (even if it’s programmed to sound like Hugh Laurie). I was thinking about this yesterday as I read through Part 1 of the Specialty Fabrics Showcase (Part 2 will be included in the May issue). We now have fabrics that fight disease, fight crime, fight pollution, keep themselves clean, and allow you to print them with a vivid image of your puppy (or your presidential candidate) if you want. Add (or weave in) some electronic sensors, and they’ll report on everything from wind speed to pulse rate, and look good doing it.
For the most part, electronic textiles are still more common in the areas of wearable technology—military and aerospace technology, sports gear and health care—than they are in awnings, tents, biminis or upholstery. But, as Shade One Awnings’ Donald Franks tells us in “The Last Word”: “Can awnings generate electricity to homes and businesses? Will we ever see a solar panel in Forest Green Fancy? How about a shade sail that can power a home?I don’t think it is that far off.”
Fabrics can still be fabricated. It may be the technology in the fabrication equipment that makes for the greatest changes in our industry going forward. Our July issue will include a feature on new equipment, and once again, we’ll focus on performance and productivity, employment and automation, quality and versatility. The idea is not to use technology to put people out of work, but to make them so productive you can hire more of them. Do the creative skills of custom craftsmanship pair with the technological skills needed to operate, or program, more advanced equipment? Is there a point at which automation blurs the lines between commodity and custom? Ultimately, it’s up to the customer—but how we tell them, and sell them, is likely to mean “marketing over manufacturing”
in the future, too, if it doesn’t already.
I’ll take mine with pizza.