Mobile Bodies

“strange bodies are produced through tactile encounters with other bodies: differences are not marked on the stranger’s body, but come to materialise in the relationship of touch between bodies…. it is the very acts and gestures whereby subjects differentiate between others that constitutes the permeability of both social and bodily space”
– Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters (2000, page 15.)

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Emoji Gender Bender

This article first appeared on Tech.Mic, written by Sophie Kleeman. mic.com

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This year, Oxford Dictionaries got creative with its Word of the Year. Instead of picking an actual word, it chose a familiar little yellow face. Upturned mouth, tears of joy streaming down its cheeks, eyebrows tilted in laughter: an emoji, precisely the one you’d add to a retweet of something that was so funny you cried. The decision was yet another example of how commonplace the small digital characters created by Unicode have become in daily life.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, use of the word emoji more than tripled between 2014 and 2015. Their ubiquity is undeniable. They’re popular with grandparents and teenagers, in Bangkok and Bel Air. There are pages and pages of them on smartphones, enough to suit a broad range of everyday texting situations. Yet despite their abundance, there’s an area of life that isn’t properly represented.

Where the hell, we ask, are all the emojis for professional women?

What options exist? As it stands, women who want to use something other than a neutral female emoji have the following options to choose from: a princess, a bride, twins that resemble Playboy bunnies, a dancer in a red dress and a series of “information desk person” characters.

Male emojis, on the other hand, have the following non-neutral forms: Santa Claus, a man wearing a turban, a man wearing a gua pi mao (a type of hat), a policeman, a guardsman, a male detective, a male construction worker and a male angel. There’s also a series of male athletes: a male horseback rider, a man bowing, a man walking, a man running, a man golfing, a man swimming and a man floating.

Ambiguously gendered figures with long hair and visible sideburns can be found playing basketball and surfing.

Besides the sheer difference in numbers, the occupations of these characters is telling. Men get the “serious” professional roles, and women get the “girlie” ones. Even the “information desk person” emojis have become better known for their seemingly sassy behavior: The woman holding out her hand, for instance, has been re-imagined as the hair-flip emoji.

“Every day we’re seeing this subtle message that there are these emojis of men doing jobs, but women are just dancing and getting their hair cut,” Niniane Wang, CEO of Evertoon and a former engineering manager at Google, told Mic. “It [has] an effect.”

Before men’s-rights types start screaming about political correctness gone haywire, no, this isn’t the most pressing feminist issue of our time. We shouldn’t necessarily throw all other causes to the wind and spend their days and nights fighting for equal emoji representation. There are myriad problems for women around the globe – violence, sexual assault, pay inequality and access to reproductive services, to name a few — that are far more threatening to women’s lives.

The lack of emoji options for the working woman is worth examining because it’s a small yet clear example of a social scheme that still manages to reinforce traditional gender stereotypes at every turn — even when the issue is as seemingly innocuous as a tiny digital face.

“I think it’s a symptom of a detrimental system — the patriarchy — that reinforces stereotypes (the bride, the princess, the dancer) that don’t represent the many layers of what it means to identify as female,” Kendall Mackey, 28, told Mic. 

Wang first noticed the lack of professional women emojis while developing Evertoon, an app that allows users to create avatars. “Emojis are a huge part of our product, and I’ve spent many hours of the last year of my professional life staring at [them],” she said.

Kelly Byrd, 29, theorized that the lack of emoji ladies in professional roles comes from a fear of representing women badly.

“They didn’t want them to come across as being totally stereotypical,” Byrd told Mic. If Unicode had chosen traditionally female-dominated — and thus easily identifiable — jobs, like nurses, teachers or secretaries, the backlash likely would have been powerful. Wang agreed, noting that it was possible Unicode didn’t want to do “the wrong thing.”

Still, both said they were dissatisfied with the emoji universe’s inadequacies.

“I’m definitely disappointed that there’s a big discrepancy,” Byrd said. Though she said she won’t be beating down the door of her local congressperson over the issue anytime soon, she emphasized that it’s still important to see herself represented properly.

“[Emojis have] become part of our cultural language,” Wang said. “That’s why I don’t think it’s silly. Lots of people communicate with emojis, and texting is such a pervasive part of how we communicate with each other. If we’re all texting, and all using emojis, then doesn’t it make sense that they should represent us?”

It doesn’t have to be a giant shift right away. Unicode can’t represent every single profession out there. But it should be aware, as Mackey put it, that there are different layers to what it means to be female — and that means acknowledging that women make up roughly 40% of the global workforce.

They could start, for example, by adding female versions of the male professions, and vice versa. That means including female construction workers, grooms, male information desk people, and so on. (They could also stand to experiment with more genderless figures.)

Eventually, other occupations — businesswomen, doctors, housekeepers, scientists, singers, cooks — should have a place. (As well as some other key roles.) Wang said she’d like to see a female engineer or a female CEO.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Though Unicode can seem like an impenetrable and distant fortress from the outside, recent updates to the emoji catalog have proven that change certainly isn’t out of the question. Although BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel describes Unicode as “a deeply technical and somewhat secretive organization.” (Unicode has not responded to a request for comment for this story.)

Racially diverse emoji finally made their way into Unicode’s updates in 2015, and on Friday, a Kickstarter campaign to add a dumpling emoji surpassed its goal. Jennifer Lee, the co-creator of the campaign, previously told Mic that beyond getting the dumpling emoji approved, she wanted to use the Kickstarter funds to help diversify Unicode’s voting bodies and make the proposal process more inclusive to the public.

The organizing body she intends to use to see this goal through, Emojination, will help tackle problems like the lack of professional women emoji, and it will start by adding to the ranks of people who participate in the process in the first place. Emojination is a “nonvoting associate member” of Unicode.

Engineers, for example, make a good portion of the membership, which Lee believes needs to change. “The skill set of engineering is not robust enough to address the demands the emoji world is putting on the system,” she told Mic earlier this week. “You need someone, ideally, who understands how to plug in to systems to gauge desire. The emoji subcommittee itself would benefit from a richer range of skill sets.”

Then again, there’s a much simpler solution to all of this. As Mackey put it, “Can’t we just have an emoji that’s of a woman smashing patriarchy?”

Mobiles, Memories and Image

Captured in a searingly real and beautiful photo essay, photographer Grey Hutton (vice.com) shows how memory, migration and mobiles are entangled. In the context of the migration crisis in Europe, mobile phones embody mobility on a massive scale – across oceans not just cities. And with mobility comes memory, travelling as mobile background images. Vice.com

Embedded in the captions are significant narratives about cultural integration: “Nobody wears jeans there”; surveillance “At night, the police could see the light” and affect as a motivator “It’s a reminder of a great moment”.

Smartphones and refugees

 “This is a picture of me and my Christian friend fishing in Kurdistan. It’s a nice memory and I like to have it with me.”

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 “This is a photograph of my wife’s mother. She was killed by IS in Libya. I’ve had this phone for 10 years. I only use it for important things, really.”

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“The journey would never have been possible without this phone. I used it all the time, both on land and at sea.”

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“I used the GPS to navigate the boat to Greece. Only during the day, though. At night, the police could see the light.”

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“This is the son of one of my friends. The photo was taken in Hamburg at a camp we stayed in. It’s a reminder of a great moment.”

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“This is the traditional dress of the Pashtun. It reminds me of where I’m from in Pakistan. Nobody wears jeans there.”

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“We used balloons and tape to protect our phones from the water.”

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“I lost my smartphone in the ocean on the journey. I’m going out buy a new one as soon as I have money.”

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“This is my four children. The phone was really useful for teaching them a few German words and keeping them busy with games while we were travelling.”

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“This picture was the background on my old phone. I don’t know how to transfer it to the new phone my mother gave me. It’s a picture of my brother, who was killed by IS. My other brother was killed by Assad’s forces.”

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“This is my daughter. She’s still in Syria, but we talk every morning, evening and night.”

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“This is a Lebanese pop star called Elissa. During my trip, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to music. Now that I’m in Germany, I feel like it again.”

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“Our phones are extremely important to us.” (Somali couple)

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“I chose this background because it reminds me of my mother. I’m 16 years old and this photo is my only way of staying in touch with my family and friends.”

Quirky Film or Smart Posthuman Vision?

A sweet-looking young boy sits in the park unpacking a picnic basket and waiting for someone to arrive. Along comes a burly older man, fresh from his outdoor gym routine and stops in front of the boy, bending on one knee. For a moment the man checks his phone and then asks for the boy by name. Then, in an awkward and surprisingly emotional performance the man breaks up with the boy. Well, to be more accurate, the man breaks up with the boy on behalf of his girlfriend.

Miranda July's Film Somebody

Scene 1 of actress/artist Miranda July’s quirky new film project, Somebody. Part social experiment, part commentary, the tongue-in-cheek tagline says it all: “When You Can’t be There, Somebody Can”. Think of it like the high-tech version of a singing telegram. The project contains a short film (beautifully shot) and a mobile application for free download.

I love Somebody’s witty parody of “routine” digital experiences. Specifically I love the extreme scenarios of mediation. In a sweet, musing kind of way, it makes you wonder how far you would go. Take this scene: A woman is seated in a restaurant, a waitress walks over with her phone, asks for her by name and then proposes marriage on behalf of an errant partner – brilliantly performed by July herself.

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Another scene: two women have a catfight. It look irresolvable until a passing pensioner pedestrian “messenger” delivers a reconciliatory note.

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Beyond the cute parody (it’s light), this is a very nicely packaged (beautiful wardrobe courtesy of the film’s commissioner Miu Miu) commentary on our posthuman selves. In the best scene of the film – one with clever cybernetic overtones – a pot plant asks its owner for water via a proxy: the man’s lover. Things get nicely twisted, when the pot plant’s missives turn into sort of techno erotica (much funnier than it sounds). Potplant: “Test my soil, deeper!”

Miranda July Somebody film

Running with the posthuman theme, feminist technoscience writer Donna Haraway might call this notion of distributed consciousness: living intimately ‘as’ and ‘in’ a biological world. Haraway’s work interrogates the divisions of nature/culture and human/machine. She refutes these so-called divisions, preferring “enmeshment” instead. She coined the term “natureculture” to explain the concept. The point is: drawing a dividing line between us, mobiles (and even thirsty pot plants) is irrelevant anyway.  July’s film delivers the same message  in a good-humoured parody.

Miranda July Somebody film

Somebody is a brilliant hack of technology; in the project’s own words: “The antithesis of the utilitarian efficiency that tech promises, here, finally, is an app that makes us nervous, giddy, and alert to the people around us.” In visualizing affect – nearly all the scenes are real heart-wrenchers – the film tries to humanise technology. It introduces us humans back into our own technological exchanges in a speculative way. Naïve? Probably. Damn entertaining? You bet.

Miranda July Film Somebody

Somebody app is available for download via iTunes. No proxies needed.

Invisible Girl/Boyfriend

Parody, playful, tongue in cheek: Invisible Girl/Boyfriend.

Created during a StartUp Weekend, according to the site: “Finally. A girlfriend your family can believe in. Invisible Girlfriend gives you real-world and social proof that you’re in a relationship – even if you’re not – so you can get back to living life on your own terms.”

Seems the invisible boyfriend was an afterthought, click far right in the corner for that option.  No guessing the gender of the project initiators then 🙂

http://invisiblegirlfriend.com/

Next Nature

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Future Fragrance

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Wired.

We have all sorts of ways to communicate with one another: text messages, emails, Gchats and, according to my sources, even phone calls. We live in a word-heavy world, and why not? A sentence, both spoken and written, is a highly efficient way to transmit a lot of information with very little time and effort. But words aren’t necessarily the best way to express every idea. Logistically speaking, verbal and written languages have cultural barriers that are sometimes insurmountable. Emotionally speaking, sometimes words just don’t do justice for what we’re trying to convey.

Full-sensory correspondence is still a long way off. We’re just now beginning to explore how powerful virtual touch could be in connecting with each other. But there’s one sense that’s been notoriously missing from the landscape: smell. “When you think about how important the olfactive is in almost every type of communication, its absence in global communication is sort of astounding,” says David Edwards.

Edwards is the always-buzzing mind behind Le Laboratoire, the Paris innovation tank and research facility that brought us Wikipearls and Le Whaf. The group’s most recent invention, the oPhone, is aiming to make olfactory communication commonplace by transmitting odors much in the same way you send text messages.

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This little cartridge contains olfactive information that can produce hundreds of odor signals.

It’s a basic idea. Humans have long bonded over smells, both good and bad (there’s nothing like a smelly subway car to force intimacy). It’s strange then, that no one has been able to channel scents into a more digestible form of communication.

There’s one big problem when it comes to doing this, says Edwards: “Odor transmission to date is not smart,” he explains. “If I give you the odor of a pizza, I have a difficult time immediately after giving you the odor of the sea and then giving you the odor of a cactus.” Basically what Edwards is saying, and what we already know from letting trash sit in our apartments a day too long, is that odors linger. Which makes it hard to craft any sort of cohesive and decipherable olfactive narrative.

The oPhone solves this problem with its main innovation: the oChip. This little cartridge, about the size of a fingernail, contains olfactive information that can produce hundreds (and soon thousands, says Edwards) of odor signals. The idea is that these chips can be installed in the oPhone, and via a bluetooth-connected app called oTracks, scents can be sent to yourself or an oPhone-carrying friend with the push of a button.

Edwards and his small team have been prototyping the oPhone for the better part of a year. The most current version, unveiled at the WIRED UK conference, is a system of sorts that uses four cylindrical oPhones that can each be loaded with up to eight scent chips. This allows for what Edwards calls an “odor symphony,” or the ability to craft a multi-odiferous message with actual context. “These are pretty subtle odor signals that allow me to create sentences, paragraphs and essays, if you will, of odor messages,” he says.

The final product, due out later this year, will come with two oPhones, a choice that Edwards says is a compromise to ensure people can experience more than once smell simultaneously. “You can have these great coffees on one side and breads on the other side,” he explains. “There will be some oTracks that use two oPhones and some that use one.”

He’s quick to say that the initial consumer product is less about catering to a mobile, urban user and more about creating a sensory experience around food or media consumption. Immediate applications will be a coffee experience, which allows oPhone holders to smell various coffee scents. Edwards is also working with Paris Vapors to integrate oPhone technology into media like books, movies and TV shows.

It might seem a little clunky, but most new technology is. More interesting is thinking about future applications, when the oPhone functions more like a cell phone. Edwards is plugging away on creating the universal oChip, a customizable version of the oChip that can be programmed with whatever smell you can think of. You can imagine that this could be applied in healthcare to stimulate memories and relieve stress. Or, more personally, someday while visiting your grandparent’s house, you could send a text message to your brother embedded with smell emoticons that will conjure up the cookies your grandmother used to make.

That inherent emotional connection to smell is what Edwards is looking to exploit. And in his opinion, it’s only a matter of time before it’s commonplace. “If Twitter had this enormous impact with very limited information content exchange, you can imagine a complete aroma equivalent of that,” he says. “It’s fascinating how powerful that could be.”

It’s Funny Cause It’s True

Original Article courtesy Gawker

In a clarion call that will likely rival his insta-legendary “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” diatribe delivered nearly five years ago on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, comedian Louis C.K. explains — to Conan, once again — exactly why he dislikes the culture of smartphones and why he would never get one for his kids.

C.K. starts off by suggesting that smartphone usage is the reason kids today are meaner:

I think these things are toxic, especially for kids…they don’t look at people when they talk to them and they don’t build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it’s ’cause they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, ‘you’re fat,’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, ‘oh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that.’ But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write ‘you’re fat,’ then they just go, ‘mmm, that was fun, I like that.’

From there, C.K. moved on to expound on the larger issue: The negative emotional effect that smartphones have on grown-ups.

While C.K. agrees that smartphones can help create a sense of community, he believes that therein lies the problem:

You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.

And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…

That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.

Finally, C.K. brings it all together with an anecdote about the time he was in his car listening to a Bruce Springsteen song (“Jungleland“) that made him really sad:

And I go, ‘oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’…then I said, ‘you know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.’

And I let it come, and I just started to feel ‘oh my God,’and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments.

And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness. It was such a trip.

The thing is, because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone or a jack-off or the food. You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die. So that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.

Life of a Stranger Who Stole My phone

Recently found (thanks Robin Kelly): a Tumblr blog sharing “the inspiring story of Hafid from Dubai,the douchebag who stole my phone”. Who knows if it’s real, but as the blog says Hafid “forgot to switch off the camera upload function, that’s why we will enjoy a deep insight into his life.”

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Blog caption: “salam again, the summer heat doesn’t keep creative hafid from exploring new locations and posing the shit out of them.”

The blog is interesting for a couple of reasons:

It’s not a “deep insight” into Hafid’s life at all, it’s the commentary of a crime victim laying bare the naive and sometimes banal life stream of a supposed thief. And now it’s gone viral. So why do we find this so entertaining?

There’s something simultaneously unnerving and entertaining about having access to a strangers’ life without his consent or knowledge. When was the last time you had full access to someone else’s photostream? It’s voyeurism at its most culturally intimate. It also opens spaces for fantasy, humour, bitterness and total misinterpretation. In many of the images the blog author incorrectly identifies “Hafid” in the picture. Maybe all Arabs look the same to the author? Maybe all Arabs are called Hafid anyway? The author labels a video of Hafid’s friends/brothers/cousins “dancing” when they’re wrestling (maybe that’s a joke). Either way, what we’re doing is looking at Hafid through his own eyes. This is what he sees! We can be him for a day or two! We’re both participating in his life and making fun of him by doing it. But, some things we’ll never know: is he really an aspiring fashion designer? Is he happy? Are those his brothers or lovers? Some things we know for sure though: he’s having chicken for lunch.

Seems like mobile photography techniques suffer less from cultural relativism…Hafid’s photos have all the built-in cliches of mobile culture:

The experimental selfie triptych.
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the filtered food shot

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the person-in-the-palm-of-my-hand shot.

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If it’s real then this kind of surveillance at a distance is mind blowing. Even if the blog is the work of a bored creative (or a researcher, even better) the narrative speaks volumes. There’s the microcosm it provides for western views on the “other.” now I’m making assumptions. Maybe the blog author isn’t western – they never identify themselves. The author  uses  Arabic in the captions – which are funny, sarcastic and mildly derogatory. This could have been left out, but to be honest the blog is nothing without it. So we’re having a laugh at a person, using his own tongue. Again, it’s entertaining, but why?

Hafid has the obvious naivety of someone  using a smartphone for the first time. He poses like a newbie in cliched places (the rocks! the ocean!), filter experimentation gone wrong, under-lit selfies, and shot composition minus heads. This is overlaid with the owner’s derisive Western commentary, someone familiar with smartphone technology. Anyone who has been to Dubai will know the incredible opulence it celebrates. I think Hafid’s mobile stream speaks less about his lack of creative capacity and more about our new global dividing line in consumer culture – defined by the phone you own.

Let’s Talk About Me

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Original Article:by ROBERT LEE HOTZ

Talking about ourselves—whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money, researchers reported Monday.

About 40% of everyday speech is devoted to telling others about what we feel or think. Now, through five brain imaging and behavioral experiments, Harvard University neuroscientists have uncovered the reason: It feels so rewarding, at the level of brain cells and synapses, that we can’t help sharing our thoughts.

Bragging gives the same sensation of pleasure as food and money. The same areas of the brain are activated, scans show.

“Self-disclosure is extra rewarding,” said Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir, who conducted the experiments with Harvard colleague Jason Mitchell. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “People were even willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves,” Ms. Tamir said.

To assess people’s inclination for what the researchers call “self disclosure,” they conducted laboratory tests to see whether people placed an unusually high value on the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. They also monitored brain activity among some volunteers to see what parts of the brain were most excited when people talked about themselves as opposed to other people. The dozens of volunteers were mostly Americans who lived near the university.

In several tests, they offered the volunteers money if they chose to answer questions about other people, such as President Obama, rather than about themselves, paying out on a sliding scale of up to four cents. Questions involved casual matters such as whether someone enjoyed snowboarding or liked mushrooms on a pizza. Other queries involved personality traits, such as intelligence, curiosity or aggression.

Despite the financial incentive, people often preferred to talk about themselves and willingly gave up between 17% and 25% of their potential earnings so they could reveal personal information. “We joked that this was the penny for your thoughts study,” Ms. Tamir said.

In related tests, the scientists used a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, which tracks changes in blood flow between neurons associated with mental activity, to see what parts of the brain responded most strongly when people talked about their own beliefs and options, rather than speculating about other people.

Generally, acts of self disclosure were accompanied by spurts of heightened activity in brain regions belonging to the meso-limbic dopamine system, which is associated with the sense of reward and satisfaction from food, money or sex.

“It rings true to me,” said psychologist James Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin who studies how people handle secrets and self-disclosure, but was not involved in the project. “We love it if other people listen to us. Why else would you tweet?”

You Are What You Tweet

The Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Interactions magazine features FoodMood – a joint data visualization project by Affect Lab and AI Applied using global Twitter data to measure food sentiment. Click here to read it.
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About ACM interactions:
The magazine is a mirror on the human-computer interaction and interaction design communities and beyond. It is a multiplicity of conversations, collaborations, relationships, and new discoveries focusing on how and why we interact with the designed world of technologies. interactions has a special voice that lies between practice and research with an emphasis on making engaging human-computer interaction research accessible to practitioners and on making practitioners voices heard by researchers.

FoodMood featured in Interactions magazine Jan/Feb 2013.
FoodMood featured in Interactions magazine Jan/Feb 2013.
Natalie Dixon, FoodMood, Affect Lab
FoodMood Feature Interactions magazine Jan/Feb issue 2013.
FoodMood Featured in Interactions magazine Jan/Feb 2013
FoodMood Featured in Interactions magazine Jan/Feb 2013