Cyberspace gets all emotional

It would seem that the phrase “to wear your heart on your sleeve” is in need of an update.  A Japanese husband and wife have masterminded a way for you to literally wear “your heart on your chest”.

Having come up with a device which fits across the chest like a parachute vest, armed with sensors, motors, vibrators and speakers, the duo have been able to send their emotions through cyber space.

Not merely representations of your emotions through symbols or signs, but your ‘real’ emotions.  In a recent interview the couple declared that they are looking to “create a deep immersive experience, not just a vibration in your shirt triggered by an SMS. Emotion is what gives communication life”.  A rather, ahem, emotional speech.

In an aim to inject some gusto into our gab, the device dubbed iFeel_IM ( ‘I feel therefore I am’) can simulate different heart beats, hugs, a butterfly stomach, and a tingling spine and recognize feelings of joy, fear, anger and sadness with apparently 90 percent precision.

The rationale for the innovation? According to the couple, the technologically advanced world of today is the main culprit for our inability to “connect (with each other) emotionally”.

Well, hats off to you guys for this insight.

However, have people not been wandering around making and breaking relationships for years before the first laptop was even invented, entirely unable to express emotion or communicate effectively with their partners? 

One only has to look at the percentage of American citizens who currently attend therapy sessions, to know that being emotionally withdrawn is not a problem exclusive to our online habits.

Yes, ninety percent of communication is non-verbal, and being given a helping hand to send your non verbal needs through the airwaves may provide some novelty and user entertainment, but isn’t maintaining relationships online an opportunity to brush up on our ability to express ourselves through, dare I say it, words?

Do we really need someone to yank those emotions out of us and catapult them to our passive partner on the other side?

Well it seems that in Asia at least, we do.

In the West, we generally don’t have too much trouble registering the emotions and communication intents of others.

Even without words, our emotions are typically written all over our faces. Despite the visual clues we perceive, if in Scotland for example, you still have any doubt as to if someone is angry with you or not, you will have your answer well before the bruising on your forehead starts to fade. 

In terms of cyber space, if there is any doubt, then we have those joyful little blinking emoticons to lend an emotional hand, right? Can’t we just continue to hide our real emotions behind these little faces that smile and blow kisses at us anymore?

Interestingly research has revealed that people in East Asia tend to have a tough time visually discriminating the difference between the emotions on the face. 

Last year, ‘Current Biology’ magazine explained that is because Asians tend to focus on the eyes, rather than scan the whole face like westerners do. 

So while Westerners might be able to tell if their online buddy is about to punch a hole in the web cam, our Asian friends may have more trouble predicting the emotion that is building up on the other side of their laptop.

This cultural difference in interpreting emotion is even reflected through the emoticons that we use. For example, in the West, emoticons use the mouth to transmit emotional states such as, 🙂 for happy. In Asia, the same emotions are expressed through the eyes, e.g. ^.^.

So it seems that if anything at all, this product, marketed in Asia could provide a positive alternative to sending emoticons.  

In the West for now, the novelty factor is there, but we may want to continue to use our natural visual cues, and leave the vest for the therapy chair.

Having said that, one particular emotion could be usefully transmitted; sarcasm.  Being able to convey this intent through the airwaves could prove very useful; add a button for that on the vest and the marketing potential across the ocean would soar.

As for our emotions; just don’t play with them.