Emotion-Based Interfaces: Or, My Quantified Self Is Really Starting To Bug Me

This quantified self of mine is really getting under my skin -- largely because, well, it has gotten under my skin. It is messing with one of the most cherished of my human qualities: self-delusion. To wit: now I know precisely how ineffective that last workout really was. The heartbeat monitor on my Apple Watch is tracking my heart rate throughout my daily battle with a home climbing machine. Apparently my definition of intense aerobic activity is in disagreement with the Watch’s. Now I have a little scold on my wrist warning me that I am not working nearly as hard as I would like to think I am.

Screw you, I tell the watch when it does not deliver the expected result. But who am I really talking to? Who am I flipping off here, if not myself? I can tell already that this is going to get complicated and perhaps a bit messy.

In an ingenious piece of imaginative engineering, the agency T-3 is leveraging this bifurcated self created by wearables with an upcoming “hands-free Tinder” app.  Instead of swiping through Tinder profiles, using your head to filter responses to potential matches, you can use an app where elevations in your heart rate trigger choices. The heart belies the head.

“Your head might lie when you look at a picture,” says Ben Gaddis, chief innovation officer, T-3. “Your heart might have an immediate reaction.” The will be T-3’s first direct-to-consumer app after many years of designing for clients. It will be available when Apple releases version 2.0 of the Watch OS, which will give apps access to more of the device’s sensor data.

T-3 already uses a wide range of data points from mobile phones to power the 7-Eleven app through T-3’s SCOUT platform. It pulls in weather, location and personal data to present offers to customers that recognize time of day, seasonality, current temps and whether the customer is close to a store. Imagine adding heart rate to this. “If you know it is a warm day and you have been running and your heart rate is about 110 beats for the last ten minutes, we could offer you specific types of experiences that are relevant without asking you,” he says.

The emotion-based interface gained some serious credibility this week from none other than Mark Zuckerberg. At a Facebook Town Hall session, he contended that someday we would be sending thoughts and feelings to one another via digital channels -- but without clunky text or voice input devices. He said, "One day, I believe we'll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You'll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too, if you'd like. This would be the ultimate communication technology."

Of course, using data points like heart rate as a sort of cookie trail for emotions raises a host of possibilities, both positive and negative. Imagine taking this Tinder interface and applying it to browsing a clothing catalog. Sure, this application of your quantified self might tell you what you really, really like or use emotional responses to filter choices. It could also arm a retailer with data points that could get irritating very quickly. The idea of being retargeted by heart rate is a nightmare scenario that disrupts the longstanding consumer/seller dynamic. This is like giving a salesperson access to your personal “tell.” The quantified self quickly becomes someone else’s quantified mark.

Damn you, quantified self. No, wait. Who the hell am I talking to?

This column was previously published by MediaPost in the July 2 edition of Moblog.

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