The Poking Machine

While social media has its undeniable affordances, we don’t need a conference to tell us we’re reinventing our expressions of emotion online. We’ve steadily relegated our handshakes, glances, winks or smiles to below those of digital “pokes” and “likes”. In a parody turned technical, Dutch artists Jasper van Loenen and Bartholomäus Traubeck developed the Poking Machine, showcased at the alt-conference Unlike Us held in Amsterdam on 8-10 March. It’s a wearable device that physically pokes a person whenever a friend virtually pokes them on Facebook. The Poking Machine consists of a custom-built circuit (ATtiny, servo, battery, and bluetooth module) that connects to an Android phone that tracks incoming pokes. The circuit is housed in a coloured laser-cut box that users wear on the arm. While people happily poke away on Facebook, Van Loenen and Traubeck are poking fun at us. Even without the benefits of hindsight they can see the future. There’s little disputing that in years to come, digital poking will not go down as one of mankind’s finest moments.
Poking Machine
Poking machine
Poking Machine

Your Digital Self

I Want You to Want Me by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar made me think: it’s a huge, goddamn lonely digital universe out there. It feels like, as researchers (and people) we’ve just launched an exploration into a new cosmos and the results are sometimes more unnerving than fascinating.

I Want You To Want Me is a haunting, beautiful, interactive installation that Harris and Kamvar built for the Elastic Mind exhibition at MOMA in 2008. The duo harvested data from online dating sites and then visualized it in a series of floating pink (female) and blue (male) interactive balloons. Viewers can touch a balloon which then reveals bits of the data – like people’s opening or closing lines on their dating profiles or what they’re looking for in a partner.

I Want You to Want Me - Feel Me

I Want You To Want Me, looking for...

I Want You to Want Me, looking for love

Like their other (also beautiful) project, We Feel Fine,it’s divided into movements.

Closers reveals closing lines from users’ profiles:

Hurt me and you die (19-year-old woman looking for a woman in Orange County, California)
Did i mention that i’m nice? (36-year-old man looking for a woman in Omaha, Nebraska)
Also I would like to get married before my 30th birthday. (27-year-old woman looking for a man in Waupaca, Wisconsin)

Another movement is sillouettes depicting shadowy representations of online daters trapped in balloons.

I Want You To Want Me, balloon guy
I Want You To Want Me, girl in balloon

Maybe it was the background music of the Youtube video, or some of the lines, but it really punched a hole in my chest. The floating balloon graphics weren’t people anymore but more like lonely digital ghosts.  Ghosts of our previous analogue selfs?
It’s unchartered space. It’s filled with expression. We can better understand ourselves with the help of social data and design. I get this. This explains away the new charge of data visualizations, apps and tools that help us quantify and analyse our emotions.

But maybe it’s also the start of something else. That the web is now laying bare the complexities of human relationships. That is has always been a goddamn lonely universe out there,  but for the first time we can see it. As we start to uncover our digital selves through data and design, we see the traces of our digital adventures and our new digital existence. We see what we’ve become or what we’ve always been. Either way, this self, seeking love, looks lonely.
– Natalie Dixon

The Prayer Companion

In a a fascinating meeting of new research methodologies and age-old beliefs, a team at Goldsmiths University Interaction Research Studio developed the Prayer Companion. It reminds us of the incredible data visualization project We Feel Fine by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar that trawls social media sources for expressions of emotion containing the words “We feel…” or “I feel…..” In the Prayer Companion project though the data is selected on the basis of news worthiness (and/or prominence) and emotion. A reader (which ironically looks alien and catholic at the same time) displays the data in a convent in York where the resident nuns use it for inspiration for prayer topics. Read more here.


Crowdsourcing Darwin’s Work

Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals is a seminal work for the study of human emotion, underpinning much of the current research on the subject. In a contemporary and clever twist a team heading a project called Darwin Correspondence at Cambridge University turned Darwin’s original research, consisting of  a small sample, into a much larger crowdsourcing exercise. Read more on the project’s site.

Expressions of Emotion by Dr Duchenne
Expressions of Emotion by Dr Duchenne