Design and use has transformed the mobile phone so that its functionality now extends far beyond the straightforward communication for which it was designed. Phones now manage swathes of personal time and information from all aspects of a life. They may enable and perfectly recall communication and media, more efficiently than any human could. Mobile phones in their short existence have not only changed dramatically, they have changed our relationship with technology, with each other, and perhaps even with ourselves.
Through constant use, personalisation of features, functions and content, the mobile phone has become (suggests Vincent, 2011) a personal compendium for the life of the user and one that reflects intimate aspects of their self, aspects that will only ever be ‘shared’ with their mobile phone.
Consequentially, people now use their mobile phone to manage their emotions to the extent that they develop a strong emotional bond with it. Because it is always available a user will rely on their phone to share, store and recall significant personal moments. Over time this engenders an intimate emotional and physical co-construction of functional machine and emotional experiences.
Picard’s (1997) seminal research affective computing considers the complexities of understanding and interpreting human actions in relation to the design of robotic machines. What happens, he postulates, if the constant interaction with this phone enables or even limits the user to feel, share, manage and interpret their emotions through using the device? These electronic emotions (conclude Vincent & Fortunati, 2009) remain within the human user but are only created, lived or relived when interacting with the mobile phone.
These electronic emotions elicited via the mobile phone are not different from those we feel in everyday lives. What is different is how they are prompted via contact (touch or thought) with the mobile phone.
How can we harness these ideas?
Perhaps this futuristic, slightly fetishistic psychological development indicates a fundamental shift in our relationship with electronics just at the moment when connected devices are poised to permeate far deeper into our lives. What electronic emotions will our fridge, which talks to our supermarket and our doctor, store, particularly in this health and weight obsessed age? Will it squawk our guilt and shame back at us like a tell-tale heart? How will we feel about wearable tech when we have invested so much of ourselves into it? When it and only it knows of our triumphs and defeat?
Perhaps it means that the way consumers buy electronics is changing, and that human to human emotions are taking over from reason in purchasing decision just as as machine to machine communication is taking hold.