Greetings, humans! Tech Trek returns. Today we’ll be familiarizing ourselves with augmented reality’s mind-bending potential by wearing it on a T-shirt, as well as revisiting the classic ’90s romance/feature-length AOL commercial, You’ve Got Mail.
Gadget Review: Drawsta shirt
The shirt I’m about to show you kind of boggles my mind. It’s a seemingly basic tee that becomes animated when you point your smartphone at it. Amber describes it as “making our way toward a world that is just IRL Tumblr.”
Here’s how it works: You buy the shirt ($48 at Drawsta), download a free app, and every week you get new animations to spice up your lewk! The tech is similar to Snapchat’s facial recognition filters, in that it allows the animations to stick to you even when you move.
I’m equal parts impressed and creeped out by this shirt. I think it’s an inventive and fun way to link fashion and technology, and I love that the creator is a cool-as-hell woman and not some gag-inducing tech bro. I also love that the shirts are U.S.-made, and that the company prioritizes collaborating with artists instead of ripping them off like some companies (looking at you, Urban Outfitters).
What creeps me out, though, is that this shirt is the living embodiment of “doing it for the ’gram,” and “pics or it didn’t happen.” The shirt’s animations only appear in-camera, and pretty much the entire point is to share them. The third step on the site’s three-step “How’s It Work?” page is “share.” I think this raises some interesting questions about what it means to be “real.” Is a shirt “real” if it only exists inside a screen? It’s not hard to imagine a future world where life is conducted entirely through screens, allowing the user to apply filters to blot out unpleasant realities. Bummed out by the homeless guy on the park bench near your apartment? No need to face social realities—just apply your “bummer filter” and cover that person in need with a pile of animated rose petals so you don’t have to see him!
Maybe I’m just a weird doomsdayer who needs to chill, but this shirt definitely made me think about how the normalization of “augmented reality” could ultimately lead to an even more alienating world. But it’s also a testament to how cool this shirt is that it caused me to spiral into a philosophical crisis. —Maggie
Movie of the Month: You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Some people may see Nora Ephron’s epistolary romp You’ve Got Mail as nothing more than the greatest romantic comedy of 1998. But it’s so much more than that—take it from someone who’s seen this movie approximately 2,000 times. You’ve Got Mail is an incredibly fascinating and slightly bizarre portal into another era—it’s a real time capsule of a film that revolves around two near-obsolete entities: AOL internet culture and brick and mortar bookstores.
Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan—the most congenial cinematic pairing of the ’90s—You’ve Got Mail feels a bit like a spiritual sequel to the pair’s earlier rom-com hit Sleepless in Seattle. But, it’s actually a “modernized” take on the classic film The Shop Around the Corner. Hanks and Ryan play 30-something Manhattanites who begin an anonymous internet friendship. Online he’s “NY152” and she’s “Shopgirl” and they don’t exchange photos or any info that might hint at who they are offline. What they don’t know is that they’re business rivals in real life—he’s the head of a Barnes & Noble–style book chain and she’s the owner of a small, independent book shop.
Romantic relationships and friendships that start out on the internet are commonplace now, but in 1998 not so much. So in this way, you might think that You’ve Got Mail was ahead of its time, and maybe it sort of was. But in almost every other aspect the movie is antiquated as hell and pretty amazing to watch because of that.
First, Hanks’s and Ryan’s characters email each other using AOL, which at that point was the primary mode of internet communication for most people (half of everyone online back then was getting access through AOL, and were talking to strangers and friends using AOL instant messenger; AOL and the internet were basically synonymous). They also both have dial-up internet, and because this movie is a super accurate depiction of the world circa 1998, the high-pitched buzzing sound modems made as you “signed on” to the internet is present in all of its deafening glory (and, I think, is supposed to be sort of romantic).
But what I really love is how poetic these two characters are about their primitive, digital interactions. At one point Ryan’s character Kathleen says, “What will NY152 say today, I wonder. I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it connects. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You’ve got mail. I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beating of my own heart. I have mail. From you.”
You’ve Got Mail is very silly but also pretty great and if you want a 119-minute glimpse into the internet’s past, you have to watch this movie. —Amber ♦