By Patricia Mwenda and Candide Uyanze
The Emoting Lamp is a creative computing experiment that utilizes remote sensing, emotions, and light. Designed as a two-person interaction, this project is comprised of two lamps which aim to mimic the non-verbal auras and cues exchanged during in-person communication. When one person’s mood changes, they approach the lamp and press the button. This will send a signal to the other person’s lamp, which will change colours, and will signal to the other person that their partner’s mood has shifted.
Vice versa, the other person can also signal their change in mood to their partner by pressing the button on their own lamp.
The aim of the project was to expand and deconstruct the themes of this fifth and final experiment: “remote sensing” and “connecting physical environments”. Many of the guidelines and related works presented to us for this project focus on physical presence or phenomenon’s that can be tangibly measured or witnessed. Physical presence, however, goes beyond just being physically present: there’s touch, odours, warmth, sounds, tension, emotions.
The power of feelings
We chose to focus on the latter, because emotions can have a presence of their own. Someone’s mood can command the room, and even affect the other people present. We have all met people whose joy is contagious, or stepped into rooms where, as the youth say, “the vibes were off”. This energy isn’t as easy to transmit virtually. Our pixelated, two-dimensional avatars and voices can only communicate so much in terms of non-verbal cues. Plus, removing yourself from someone’s negative emotions is as simple as logging off, disconnecting from the Wi-Fi, or turning off your computer.
Although the act of pressing a button would signal to the other person that their partner is physically present and near the lamp, the display of colours is the heart of our project. The coloured lights emitting from the LED visually embody the other person’s mood and energy in a room. At night—when we tend to reflect on our day and emotions—the colour cast becomes even more overwhelming. This was also an opportunity to take advantage of the time difference since Candide lives in Ottawa and Patricia lives in Nairobi.
Emotions take on an additional layer of complexity when we consider how we often feel the need to mask our emotions in public because the situation calls for a more socially acceptable display of emotions. Negative emotions also tend to make people uncomfortable: just think of a time when someone was sad or grieving, and you didn’t know what to do or say. We often reserve these vulnerable displays of emotion for people we are close to (or for ourselves), but this project encourages us, Patricia and Candide — two strangers a mere months ago — to share our feelings in abstract matter. By removing the barriers that language can present, and by eliminating the expectation of a response / by simplifying the expected response to a sound composition, we hope to encourage an honest exchange of emotions.
The constant presence of the partner’s mood is also a way to decenter ourselves and nurture empathy. As we spend an increasing amount of time in front of screens and engaging with digital platforms, we have to be cognizant of how the algorithms used in a lot of these interfaces tailor the content we see based on our personal tastes, interests, location, etc. using invasive technologies such as trackers, cookies, and more. Instead, The Emoting Lamp asks us to consider how someone else’s day is going, and how they’re doing.
Link to Github Project