With a little help from Interactive Personal Technologies

By Charles Windlin

In the last decades, the world has become drastically more complex and stressful. We are increasingly distracted by an immense stream of information every day and signs of stress throughout society are common.

Coping with stress is not easy since it is hard to notice by yourself up until the point where it is almost too late. We tend to push ourselves by saying “I should have done that today…” or “I just have work hour on this one more…” Stress has become a constant that we have to deal with but without knowing the consequences until it might be already too late.

The end results could be constant fatigue, burn-out or even depression. On this path, there are many signs that could have been noticed. But realizing it by yourself is very difficult and it would take a lot of practice to be able to look inwards and realize one’s emotional state for example through mindfulness training.

But how would you be able to look inwards and notice these signs? Would you understand these emotions early enough and could you avoid the potential consequences? Could personal technology help you in that effort to overcome stress and potentially a depression? To answer these questions and many more are the main task of AffecTech, a European research project with the sole goal to provide “cutting-edge technology to support people’s monitoring, understanding and regulating of emotions in daily life”.

Can personal technology help to overcome stress and potentially depression?

I am part of the Somaesthetic Design Team, an AffecTech research partner. We are based in Stockholm at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) under the lead of Kristina Höök. As a team we are interested how we use, move around, rest, express and do much more with our body. A big part of our research is also how emotions are affecting our body and how we can influence them through it. One might know from own experience that most of our emotions are hard to explain verbally but through our body, by using facial expressions, gestures and other movements we have a much bigger palette of expressions.

The Affective Diary is an example of Interactive Personal Technologies that helps to express inner thoughts and record experiences of past events. (by Kristina Höök et al.) More information can be found here.

In my part of the AffecTech research, I have similar questions as those posed earlier but from a slightly different angle: Could somebody that cares for you help to notice the (emotional) signs by looking inwards together? Could somebody that cares for you help to understand your emotions early enough and could that someone help to avoid the potential consequences? Could technology help you and somebody that cares for you in that effort to overcome stress and potentially a depression? How can we use our ability to express emotions through our body in this context? Could emotional expression through the body be facilitated by interactive technologies?

You might have guessed already that “somebody that cares for you” is maybe your mom or dad, your sister or brother, your daughter or son, a close friend, your partner or your spouse. I am focusing on this group because I believe we should come together and see each other as humans again instead as messages on our smartphone. But I also believe with interactive personal technologies we can help each other to understand how our emotions shape us, how we can shape and deal with them together. Especially if there is nothing left to say and we need to express our emotions through our body.

I believe with interactive personal technologies we can help each other to understand how our emotions shape us and eventually how we together can shape and deal with them.

So, my aim in the AffecTech research project is to envision interactive personal technologies and services that help you and the ones that you care for to understand and regulate your emotions in your daily life  – through your body when there is nothing left to say. I believe that the AffecTech research project is a great opportunity not only for my research but also for our industry partners and fellow researchers from Engineering and Psychology. Together, we can collaborate to create and advance personal technologies that can combat common health disorders.

About AffecTech

AffecTech is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network funded by European Commission Horizon 2020.
AffecTech is committed to raising awareness about mental health issues, and is supporting WHO’s World Mental Health Day 2017.

About the author

Charles Windlin is a member of the Somaesthetic Design Team at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm under the lead of Professor Kristina Höök. He earned his diploma in Industrial Design at the FHNW Institute of Applied Science in Switzerland and Master of Science in Human Computer Interaction at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Previously 7 years plus experience working in fields of consumer electronics and software for professionals, Charles has a strong interest in Interaction Design for social impact, and believes technology can improve the human condition significantly especially when the focus lays on designing for and with the human being in mind.