Ep 86: Don’t be afraid to catch feels

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about human interaction with computers, the way humans connect to and feel about the tech in their lives, and how we evoke emotions using technology (both purposely and incidentally).

I’ve started work at the BBC, for the BBC Taster website, which serves experiences like a journey of a family from Syria to the UK, or an interactive graphic novel that has you making choices that will change the way world war 2 plays out (highly recommend this one, it’s still available, and I’m not saying I fucked it, but the Americans nuked the Germans in my attempt, so see if you can do better than me). These are obviously intended to make you feel things, and that’s important to look at and consider, but I’m also intrigued by mundane day to day aspect of human emotion in tech.

I recently backed an app called Aloe – it’s based on an online service that offers a check in and prompts you to do some self care. Seemingly obvious things like, taking a walk, or drinking water or a reminder to take your meds.

The app will allow you to set your own self care goals, things that may not be obvious, or work for everyone, but you know work for you – for me it would be to go to spin class once a week, as exhausting myself at least once a week is great for my mental health.

One thing the online version prompts you to do is to pick a plant that represents how you feel that day – things like a succulent, or a cactus, or a sunflower. And that’s great, sometimes you don’t want to acknowledge your feelings enough to put a word to it or can’t boil it down to words, but looking at a series of images and choosing one that speaks to you is pretty awesome.

Another thing I’m interested in the esoteric, about how tech is replacing or augmenting aspects of spirituality in certain spaces. Leigh Alexander has spoken about this, about how humans compulsively sweep their thumbs over the screen as if their phone is a modern day religious tablet or token bringing luck or solace in anxious times (also come talk to me about emoji as sigils in modern spell casting or predictive text as tarot). Humans cling to superstition, to things that reduce anxiety (regardless of how healthy that may be).

Binky, the entirely fake app that provides swiping and refreshing but without any actual connection started as a satire of people’s need to be connected, to refresh, but people have found it really useful for curing their need to swipe. A placebo, if you will, that you can wean off as you’re literally not missing anything.

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this. As we put more and more of our lives into tech, we put our feelings there as well, and that’s something we should be thinking about

You might not be working on an evocative project, but your users and your team will still feel something about your project. Maybe the best thing you want from your app is for your users to feel that small satisfaction of something going as smoothly. A check off a to do list. But if that means that users have more time everywhere else, that will elicit a good feeling. Maybe you want people to engage in something that isn’t fun or interesting, but necessary (If I could have an app that tells me which bin I need to put out which week, I’d be happy with that. I should set up calendar notifications, but my council keep changing my bin collections. Yes, I do sound like a daily mail reader, what of it?).

I guess, my challenge to you is: think about what you’re working on right now. I bet you know a fair amount about the purpose and use cases for it. But how will it make people feel? Excited? Anxious? The small and seemingly inconsequential satisfaction of something going smoothly or being completed easily?

Think about the current state of your work: Is it making (or going to make) users feel the way you want it to?

Next: what do you feel about it? Happy? Angry? Why? What can you do to change or amplify or even just maintain these feelings? What feelings are users going to have coming into your app or project, and what should you do about those?

I advocate stepping back from work a lot as for the most part, the bugs and work don’t ‘belong’ to us, they belong to the product owners, the business. But sometimes, thinking about how it makes you feel can open up new avenues of investigation. Or open up new insights into your emotional state, and that’s something that is useful to take note of. We get so used to the Monday: boo, friYAY cycle that sometimes I think we forget that we spend a lot of time at work, and maybe we should consider if we’re actively unhappy more often that not.

Basically: FEELS. Think about them <3

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