Space Odyssey by Steven Klein in Vogue (source)
I am threatened. I experience fear. I feel horror.
This progression describes how your body responds to external stimuli. The stimuli change your physical condition, giving rise to "mental experiences of body states" which we recognize as emotions and feelings. "It’s very important to separate emotion from feeling," explains Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California. "We must separate the component that comes out of actions from the component that comes out of our perspective on those actions, which is feeling." Feeling, he continues, is "where the self emerges, and consciousness itself...It’s when you have a feeling (even if you’re a very little creature) that you begin to have a mind and a self. Mind begins at the level of feeling."
Feelings give rise to our most profoundly human characteristic: our core consciousness. "What’s distinctive about humans," adds Damasio, "is that we make use of fundamental processes of life regulation that include things like emotion and feeling, but we connect them with intellectual processes in such a way that we create a whole new world around us."
(above: Studio Roosegarde Intimacy dress - as the wearer becomes more aroused, the dress becomes more transparent)
Creating a world both rich and compelling depends on using a complex and varied palette of feelings. And yet, most of us habitually "paint" with a single color: the feeling of being stressed out. Stress is linked to everything from the annoying and embarassing (skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema) to the worrisome (intestinal problems, gum disease, erectile dysfunction, growth problems, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder) to the really worrisome (Type 2 diabetes, lower resistance to HIV, and accelerated growth of precancerous cells and tumors). Rather than addressing the root causes of our stress, instead "we tune it out," observes Asta Roseway, Principal Research Designer with Microsoft Research's Visualization and Interaction for Business and Entertainment (VIBE) Group. "We're so disconnected with the fact that we're even experiencing stress." She is attempting to tune us back in via the power of, yes, fab fashion accessories! Her team designed a sensor-embedded wristband adorned with a butterfly whose wings respond to signals like heart rate and electrical changes in the skin; the higher the measured stress, the faster the wings beat. However, the MoodWings (a clever play on mood swings) does more that just sense feelings, it also tells. When Mary Czerwinski, another VIBE researcher, was arguing with her boyfriend, the MoodWings she was wearing texted him mid-fight: “Your friend Mary isn’t feeling well. You might want to give her a call.”
While devices like the MoodWings excel at determining when we're aroused, they're less adept at discerning whether a state of arousal is from, say, being super happy, or from being negative, such as feeling deathly afraid. (This negative-to-positive measurement is called the valence.) But such improvements are obviously just a matter of time. What matters is that they are being researched and developed. "These kind of interventions, whether a little poke on the shoulder or something lighting up, can actually get us to pay attention for a moment and maybe get past that bad habit," continues Roseway. "We think that getting involved can enhance people's wellbeing because they're so unaware of what's going on."
Sensors and actuators are also becoming exponentially smaller and therefore more people-friendly. "When we live in a world where the components of a chip are 12 atoms across and you have the ability to turn anything into a computer, then that means computation will reside outside of devices," notes Intel's futurist, Brian David Johnson, co-author of Vintage Tomorrows. "People want a different relationship with technology," he continues. "People want the technology to have a sense of humanity. They want their technology to know them."
God knows, our gadgetry certainly excels at complicating matters, but know us? "Our environment has become saturated with technology and today, we have become enslaved by all sorts of technological developments," opines Dr. Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, professor of Modern Judaism and history at Arizona State University. "Yes, we created them and we think that they're going to make our lives easier, but I don't think that they do...They also don't deal with what human beings really need." Which always comes back to emotions and feelings, the tools with which we shape and create the very world in which we live. "I want to start a cultural conversation about what we should be afraid of and what we shouldn’t," continues Intel's Johnson. "We have to look at not only the future we want, but the future we don’t want – and work as hard as we can to avoid it.” Which doesn't mean engineering in more machine-like perfection, but more humanity.
Wrestling with the possibilities and limits of technology defines the Futurenetic tribe of fashionistas that I track.* Whether you agree that technology will save us all or you're more of the mind that we're happily tech'ing our humanity out with the bathwater, there's no arguing with how fascinating the conversation is. *NOTE: IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT EACH FASHION TRIBE, START HERE.
(cyborg/bionic Kate Moss image - source)
Podcast music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott