Robot smiles, electronic mums and 21st century type writers, we’ve found the top tech that’s putting the kawaii into computers
Are we technologically regressing? Or can we just not resist a robotic BFF with a smile to melt hearts? From typewriters to Apps For Cats, the latest crop of tech developments have a distinctly lo-fi lean – oh, and they’re twee as fuck. The technological penchant for the cute actually has a pretty established history. Computer developers in the mid 90s were up against a public that had inherited a science fiction canon in which technology meant, invariably, dystopia: just think of the cyberpunk classics of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick. So, they over-engineered new technological forms to be as friendly, reassuring and digestible as possible.
From cyberpunk it’s just a short leap to one of the genre’s primary inspirations, Japan. Always a little ahead of the game when it comes to technological mores – for an example, just use your emoji-nation – it’s a country in which the attitude has always been that if something is “kawaii”, its existence is totally justified regardless of how useful it is. So you could blame Japan, you could blame technophobia, or you could just blame our ability to see smiley faces wherever we go: whichever way you slice it, the future lies in nauseatingly cute tech.
BERG LITTLE PRINTER
R.I.P, little guy. On 9 September of this year, the London tech community was saddened to hear that Berg – a one-time darling of the noughties tech boom – were shutting down operations. The company’s Little Printer, a cuter-than-thou mini-printer that prints information from the user’s favourite news and social media sources as a miniature newspaper, also faces its end days – something that will no doubt turn that smile upside down.
Low-power screens with an Etch-a-Sketch feel haven’t gone very far away – just look at the number of Kindles on your morning commute. One surprise entry in the form has been the Sony E-Ink watch, revealed last week as a baby of the electronics giant despite popping up on a Japanese crowdfunding site months ago. The minimalist watch, completely made of e-paper, will be instantly customisable and extremely light. It’s the anti-Smart smart watch. Fellas: for added twee, a bow tie model is also said to be in the works.
One of the first Google results for the Hemingwrite reads, “I hate myself for loving the Hemingwrite high tech typewriter.” To borrow the compact stylistics of the Great Male Writer himself: sums it up. New-age fun with a vintage feel [shudder], this techy take on a traditional typewriter is designed for distraction-free composition with all the benefits of modern word-processing.
What’s a list about the twee web without an appearance from our feline friends? San Francisco-based start up Petcube has designed an interactive device for pets that allows owners to watch, talk and play with their pet from their smartphone, no matter where they are. Set to be the new Snapchat selfie, in terms of (initially) socially unacceptable phone use in public.
NAM JUNE PAIK’S FAMILY OF ROBOTS
Known as the father of video art, the work of the late Korean-American artist Nam June Paik can also be seen as a metaphor for how we attempt to familiarise technology and make it more human. One of the most memorable instances of this is Paik’s work in robotics. For the series Family of Robots, first shown in 1985, Park created cyborg versions of the traditional Korean family: with Grandma and Grandpa made up of older technologies like radios and film reels, and the younger generation looking increasingly technologically sophisticated. It’s those adorbable smiley faces, though, that take this into the realm of the super cute.
A messaging app for those who wish they could just talk to somebody face to face – even if its not actually their own face doing the talking – Miranda July’s app allowed summer lovers to break up with each-other through a neutral mediator all autumn long. Created for Miu Miu, the app’s aesthetics aligned perfectly with Miuccia’s quirky cool aesthetic.
Another day, another Japanese robot invention hits tech newsbites in the West. The PaPeRo personal robot, though, made more of a splash when its first prototype was developed in 1997. Since then, the little guy has increased in function but stayed pretty true to form: noted for its cute appearance, the PaPeRo has different personalities ranging from Dancing PaPeRo, Knowledgeable PaPeRo and even Lazy PaPeRo.
ETSY AGAINST BROGRAMMERS
This entry isn’t exactly terrifying, but it does involve one of the primary progenitors of the digi-twee of our times. Etsy is a website better known for supplying vintage doilies and ‘Log Lady from Twin Peaks’ brooches to the alternative masses, but it’s also responsible for some of the most forward thinking gender policies in the tech world. Fighting against the man on all levels, Etsy increased its number of female engineers by a whopping 500 per cent in one year, and also sponsors a summer Hacker School for women looking to increase their skills. If fighting sexism in the industry has to start somewhere, why not start with a handcrafted ceramic owl?
Unveiled at SXSW Interactive 2013, Telepathy One is the Japanese wearable that some say gives Google Glass a run for its money. Aside from the fact the design is arguably sleeker and more fashionable, and the fact that the five inch display screen is much bigger – another plus point it has over Glass is its “kawaii”, or “cute” element – where users select a manga character as their profile picture.
One for Silicon Valley Secret Santas this Christmas, the Sen.se Mother is a kind of techy update on a smiley Russian doll. It tracks your fitness and sleep patterns, plugging into a router and analysing all the lifestyle stats in your home. It does this through its user-configurable “cookie” sensors – which, in a neat touch, you can reprogram to do different tasks depending on what you want.