Want to know what's under this covering?

A digitally enhanced burqa lets women use Bluetooth to broadcast their identities (and photos) to nearby mobile phones.


Catherine Price
February 27, 2008 12:20AM (UTC)

According to Spiegel online, a Berlin-based artist has invented a digitally enabled burqa that will "send an image of a woman's face -- or anything else -- via Bluetooth." And you thought the burkini was something.

Sound strange? The premise behind the design is that the burqa, with its pesky head-to-toe covering, makes it difficult for wearers to "send suggestive signals to men." Some people might say that that's the point. But Markus Kison, the designer, disagrees. He has created a burqa with a "digital layer" that contains a Bluetooth antenna, enabling women to send small files to nearby mobile phones that are Bluetooth enabled. The files can be anything from a photo to a cartoon, text file or sound clip -- whatever the woman chooses to use to identify herself. (The burqa doesn't contain a camera, though, which is what I originally thought when I read the headline.) Kison calls his creation the "Charming Burka" and claims it's not forbidden by Islamic law.

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One might argue that the only reason such a creation is not forbidden by Islamic law is because it never occurred to anyone that one might be able to embed a Bluetooth antenna in a burqa -- it's not as if other flirtatious technologies have been embraced. As the article points out, in 2002 "it was so common for teenagers in Saudi Arabia to send each other pictures of themselves by phone that an import ban was imposed on camera phones." (The ban was lifted two years later because demand was so high.)

The technology behind Kison's design originally was intended not for personal photos but for advertisements -- it's a spinoff of the "Bluebot" system, which aims to send digital advertisements to passing phones. (In other words, if you walked past Starbucks, your phone might receive a coupon for a latte discount.) It's a system that makes sense from an advertising perspective. But to use it, as Spiegel describes, to turn clothing into "a walking MySpace page" seems like a weird idea even if the clothing in question is not a burqa: If I were wearing jeans and a tank top, I still wouldn't want to send my personal information to everyone around me. Also, why would I need to use my clothing to send pictures? Couldn't I just get a Bluetooth phone? That would make my outfit less controversial -- and far easier to wash.


Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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