John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Here's hoping the 1990s are back!
Change is coming for Chinese commuters. Beijing is upgrading its fare card into a smart wrist strap, which will do everything from pay for rides to sync with phones to monitor daily physical activity.
Beijing plans to release the $27 gadgets by the end of February, and a whopping 400 other cities are expected to follow suit later, reports Want China Times. And while the news site makes no mention of designs for the wearable, here's my personal and passionate hope for what's hitting the streets:
Blammo! Remember slap bracelets? Of course you do; you probably had like a dozen keistered in your Saved By the Bell backpack. Reading this, you're probably hearing their characteristic shick! as they whip around your wrist and grant you instant schoolyard prestige. Man, why did this scorching trend from the early '90s ever die?
Oh, right—maybe it was the whole injuring-kids thing. The original "Slap Wrap" invented by Wisconsin teacher Stuart Anders never really posed problems. But knockoffs arriving from Taiwan included a steel band that, when exposed, could chop into flesh. A 1990 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer described the mayhem that followed:
America's hottest new toy, the snap bracelet, is facing bans and investigations nationwide following parents' complaints that cheap, imported versions are slicing into children's fingers and arms.
In Connecticut yesterday, the state Department of Consumer Protection recalled all "knockoff" snap bracelets—thin strips of fabric-covered metal that encircle a wrist, arm or finger when flicked against the skin—after a father reported that his 4-year-old daughter had been cut by one....
And in Lahaska, Bucks County, the principal of Buckingham Friends School declared that children would no longer be allowed to bring the toys into the school after a fourth-grade boy suffered a severe cut on Friday.
"He had it in his right hand to snap on his wrist, and it ripped into the palm of his right hand," said Nancy Kuhnel of Buckingham, mother of the fourth grader, Matthew Kuhnel. "Thank goodness—it could have been his wrist. It could have hit a nerve or a vein."
Yeah, that wasn't good press for the slap bracelet. And somehow the bendy band received even more notoriety just a few years ago, when a Florida school gave a bunch to A+ students only to discover the bracelet covers were hiding pictures of naked women. (The school-district spokesman said "he wouldn't be surprised if some students keep the bracelets.")
But surely a big, modern city government like Beijing's can avoid such pitfalls. Imagine the excitement it'd bring to the trudging, humdrum masses if everybody was gifted with chic, colorful bracelets, and skipped around vigorously swatting themselves as if covered with ants. Bonus points if the subway intercom blasts hot jams from New Kids on the Block.
It's not inconceivable China will go the slappy route. The basic mechanism still exists in modern accessories, from flexible batons for relay runners to high-visibility strips for cyclists. And in a particularly relevant case, the world's hottest technology company seems to be wanting in on the game, says Bustle:
In 2013, Apple filed a patent for a "bi-stable spring with flexible display" for what many suspected was their rumored work-in-progress, the iWatch. "The most recent widespread use of such a device was the slap bracelet, also called the slap wrap," wrote Apple in the patent.