Michael San Jule-Robinson not only knows what his technology does for him, he's quite aware of what it says about him: Environmentally conscious. Efficient. Hip.
His silver Toyota Prius makes an immediate statement, he said, unlike Honda's hybrids, which don't look much different from other Hondas.
As he quietly zips along Denver streets, San Jule-Robinson, an Army veteran stationed for two years in Israel and Egypt, says his auto choice essentially shouts that Americans' wasteful energy consumption damages the environment and keeps the nation hooked on foreign oil and embroiled in all the nasty politics that come with it.
Then there's his Treo -- a small, sleek gadget almost always clipped to his belt. It's a phone, camera, digital calendar and center for instant messaging and e-mail rolled into one. "It speaks to my efficiency," he said.
What about the Bluetooth headset San Jule-Robinson, 38, keeps perched in his ear to have hands-free phone conversations? "People can see I'm on the cutting edge of technology," he said.
And the jazz ringtone on his phone?
"All of this technology might make me look uptight, but I'm really laid-back," San Jule-Robinson said with a hearty laugh.
With the same care that people have chosen their wardrobes and household furnishings for millennia, they're increasingly using technology as a means of personal expression -- deliverance, if you will, from mainstream to "mystream."
The intersection of tech and fashion is pushing individual style into new realms, giving rise to new fields of research and retailers that sell the tech lifestyle.
Even paragons of fashion and humdrum appliance makers are in on the chic techie act. Coach and Kate Spade sell mobile phone covers. Levis recently unveiled a new brand of jeans with special pockets to accommodate an iPod. Kenmore offers boldly colored clothes dryers that shut themselves off when they sense a load is dry.
"Sedona is about making a bold statement," a Kenmore advertisement for the orangey dryer states. "This fiery hot color transforms a mundane chore into a chance to flaunt your individuality."
Tech and fashion were bound to collide -- and did so for three chief reasons, according to Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director of JupiterResearch, a division of Jupitermedia Corp, based in Darien, Connecticut.
First, as the importance of a machine's features has been lost on consumers, companies have had to come up with other ways to stand out in a crowd.
Second, the markup on computer accessories -- such as those stylish carrying cases and plug-ins that convert a phone into a camera -- is huge compared with the markup on computers themselves.
And third, mature markets tend to fragment -- as evidenced by hundreds of brands of toothpaste that all do the same thing.
"Don't forget that it's ingrained in Americans to express their individuality," said Matt Swanston, director of emerging technologies for the Consumer Electronics Association. "In some ways, it's now the challenge (of tech makers) to keep up with that insatiable desire to be different."
Case in point: mobile phone ringtones. Last year, nearly 25 percent of American mobile phone users -- that's about 30 million people -- replaced the generic ringtone manufacturers programmed into their devices (hip-hop tunes were the most popular ringtones last year for those keeping track).