We Feel Fine... Thank you!

Turning the page

A while back, the news were all doom and gloom. The economical downturn was all over: in the press, on TV, on the top of the alibi lists used by large corporations to legitimise redundancy plans... Back then, I wrote a note about the positive attitude that one can adopt to face this challenging situation.

A few months later, I have encountered the embodiment of my earlier thoughts in the form of Christmas lightings. As we get closer to the holidays period, positivism seems to take over. I was hence happily surprised to walk up Carnaby Street and to discover this year's variation of their much anticipated Christmas decorations:

Peace. Love. Joy... All good intentions materialised in gigantic balloons covered in rainbow colours, shining stars and other feel-good graphic designs. They hang over the crowd like oversized cartoon bubbles, as if to visualise the intimate thoughts of passers-bys.

Picture that emotion.

As you may remember from a previous post, I am keeping a close eye on Bing, Microsoft new search experience which aims at offering consumers an alternative to Google's 10 boring blue links. Bing just got out of its beta phase in the UK, and the British experience now integrates a brand new way to search: visual search. Don't get me wrong, this is not a new way to search for images. No, this is a visual way to search. It provides users with thumbnails around a given topic, each picture representing an intent. In this example, the images represent travel destinations which can be filtered out using options on the left. You can thus decide that in June, in France, Lyon and the French Alps are one of the ideal travel destinations... Hurray!

Beyond the shameless promotion of my home region, why is that search marketing digression relevant to the current article? Visual search relies on a psychological fact: human beings process images 28% faster than text. This is probably why people like Jonathan Harris work tirelessly at visualising what cannot be materialised.

I refered to Harris' work a few times on this blog, because I just find it amazing. In 2005 for instance, Sep Kamvar and Jonathan Harris created the award-winning website wefeelfine.org, an exploration of human emotion that harvests human feelings from all over the internet. On that site, millions of bubbles are extracting from the blogosphere the words "I feel..." and then depending on the adjective that follows the verb the bubble gets coloured and clustered.

Log in to that site at any point of time and you get an instantaneous view of what people feel then. You can even filter out the results by gender, age groups, weather... Are men or women happier? Does rainy weather affect how we feel? Is beauty the bridge between happiness and negativity? How do our emotions change as we age? What causes depression? What's sexy? What's normal? What's human?

We feel fine finally provides a way to answer these questions that is both quantitative and anecdotal, putting individual stories into a larger context and showing the stories behind the statistics, or as the authors like to say, "bringing life to statistics and statistics to life."

If you want to learn more about this experiment on how to visualise feelings, the authors have published a book "We feel fine: an almanach of human emotion". Packed with personal photos, scientific observations, statistical infographics, and countless candid vignettes from ordinary people, We Feel Fine is "a visual, fiercely intelligent, endlessly engrossing crash course in the secrets of human emotion".

Now, that could be a great "Feel-Good Christmas Present", couldn't it?

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