A Field Guide to Internet Emotion

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Pamela Pavliscak hosts an 8-month Interintellect Salon series while writing her new book #Feels: How Technology is Changing Our Emotional Life for the Better.

Have you ever wondered why we feel compelled to note and name every new variation of sadness online? Or what you call that emotional hangover you can get after scrolling social media? Or how to explain that little leap of anxiety when the 3 dots appear as some writes you a text message, and then mysteriously disappear? Then this is the salon series for you!

The internet is the biggest emotion disrupter of our time. Together we’ll tune in to how the interactions we have online everyday have surprising effects on our moods. We’ll look at how technology has already expanded our emotional intelligence and how the next wave of emotion tech has the potential to create meaningful emotional experiences. And we’ll contemplate how we can harness the power of technology to live emotionally rich lives online and off.

Each salon will open with a provocative piece of research, a speculative design exploration, or a passage from the book-to-be itself. Expect passionate discussion, creative experiments, and a dash of future visioning in each salon. Come with your heartfelt questions, favorite new expressions, and deepest hopes and fears about tech that taps into emotion. Light background reading, viewing, or gaming for each session is optional.

8 episodes: 1pm New York, second Sunday of each month

Individual salon tickets may become available at the host’s discretion.

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Series tickets are available for Interintellect members:

Perks of being a member:

  • Free monthly salon ticket
  • Access to series tickets like this one
  • Discount on all other Interintellect events
  • Access to our community forum on Discord
  • Access to all members-only events

More details about memberships here.

1.  Introduction: All the Feels – September 12

It’s assumed that social media is making us angrier, that the drive to express ourselves is stirring up narcissism, that all the attention we lavish on our phones is making us lonelier than ever. Companies that aspire to read emotions treat them as unchanging and primitive—so easy to spot that even an algorithm can do it. This pared back version of humanity threatens to squelch the beautiful diversity of feeling that we’re actually experiencing online. At the start of this series, we’ll scan fields as diverse as psychology, neuroscience, history, biology, and the arts to study how our understanding of emotion is evolving. And we’ll consider technology’s role as we enter a new emotional era.

2. Amplify, *Intense Feelings Ahead* – October 10

Since internet ancient times, humans have struggled to accurately convey emotion through drab screens. In person, we can smile broadly or twist our face in disgust, deliver a well-timed side-eye, or wave away a concern. Online, it’s more difficult. So, we’ve developed all kinds of ways to amp up non-verbal expression, whether interjecting a rapid-fire succession of !!!! into an email or adding a reaction gif that dramatizes an emotion or showing (ironically, of course) your amusement with a lol or 💀. Is all this exaggerated expression resulting in more intense feelings? Could it be that the youngs, who are more emphatic, leading the way? Are we doomed to fake smiling for the sake of emotion AI? That’s just some of what we’ll discuss in between sharing our favorite emojis and working on our resting Zoom face.

3. Atomize, Bit-Sized Emotion – November 14

From recognizing cruel micro-aggressions to resurfacing ancient emotions like acedia (the mental sloth that accompanies physical inertia) to a fascination with far-flung foreign feeling words, people are slightly obsessed with uncovering new feelings. Online, emotions are going atomic too. That little tingle you get from each Instagram heart, the cyberchondria caused by excessive Googling of a health concern, the latest variation of FOMO—new feelings seem to be emerging at an ever-faster pace. Experts say that emotional granularity, the ability to be precise about our feelings, is the key to greater emotional intelligence. So, this salon will consider how our emotional life is trending toward hyper-specific emotions. And we’ll think about what it means for emotion tech to be stuck with just those five “universal” emotion for now. Be prepared to share new feelings spotted in the wild!

4. Ambient, Catching a Feel – December 12

Humans are remarkable emotional climate sensors. Yes, even (or maybe especially) online. The accumulation of likes on a Tiktok post can lift your spirits, while watching a video clouded by a flurry of angry Facebook reactions can leave you feeling incensed. Collective emotion, whether direct outpourings of grief over the tragic deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, symbolic signs of solidarity like the black Instagram squares for #BLM, or the shared humor of Bernie Sander’s suddenly everywhere chair, is hard-wired in the network. Intense emotions, like outrage or awe, spread quickly online while lower-intensity emotions like melancholy, nostalgia, or anxiety can create an ambient mood. Is it the worst kind of viral or a new form of collective effervescence? Here we’ll dive into how we catch feels from each other and what it means for our emotional life.

5. Attune, On the Same Wavelength – January 9

Even while we’re told that the internet is killing empathy, we’ve quickly become experts at seeking out (and showing) empathy online. With more of daily life moving to screens, people are studying together on Twitch, eating together on YouTube, and chatting together on Clubhouse. And we’ve adopted makeshift mood strategies to match. If we want to catch someone’s attention without seeming needy, we can try vaguebooking. If we want to express an oddly specific sense of something, we can post a TFW (That Feel When). And if we understand that vibe expressed, we can chime in with an “It me” or This^. Soon, we may be able to tag emotion in real-time using augmented reality, make emotion visible with mood clothing, or simulate emotional experience in VR. Will this mean a future of performative empathy for a highest score on a corporate leaderboard? Or will it lead to true relationship rapport?

6. Augment, Extra-Sensory Emotion – February 13

Sensory experience triggers emotional experience. But as IRL moves more and more online, our feelings can seem less and less, well, real. Part of the reason our current online experience can feel flat is because it’s often missing the multi-modal, highly sensory nature of feeling. But that’s changing. Gone are the days when you were limited to tripping out with your iTune visualizer or adding a Rumble Pak to your Nintendo 64. Now you can find calm by way of YouTube’s treasure trove of brain-tingling autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos or use a brainwave-headset to maintain calm during a yoga session. The next wave of visceral tech may go further to restore that mind-body connection. From gamers using biometrics to amp up their emotions to couples sending sensual feelings with remote BDSM devices to musicians using haptic gloves to feel the music, we’ll look at how our sensory world is expanding. And with it, perhaps our emotional world too.

7. Animate, The Emotional Life of Artificial Friends – March 13

It doesn’t take much for us to attribute emotion to objects. Maybe you’ve named your Roomba—probably Rosie, according to Reddit group consensus—or narrated the thoughts of your Tesla. Even just a pair of eyes on an animated paperclip, a la Microsoft’s Clippy, can be enough to assign an emotional intent. In order for us to get along better with bots, we’re giving them feelings too. Whether purely by design or by embedding sensors plus a dash of artificial intelligence, machines may have some kind of emotional awareness in the near future. Let’s spend this salon exploring the real emotions we have about our artificial friends. Will being kind to Siri teach us to be kind to each other? Or will casually sexually harassing her engender the same attitude toward other women? If bots care for us, will we start to feel differently about them? And what does it mean for robots to “have” feelings anyway? Chatbots, holograms, robot dogs, Tamagotchi, hexbugs, any other bots are welcome to join this session with you.

8. Awaken: A New World of Emotion – April 10

Finally, we’ll look to the future to consider what emotion could look like if it continues on this trajectory. Because we ridicule or even fear the emotions stirred up by tech, we’ve spent more time trying to squelch these new feelings than understand them. As technology attempts to decipher human emotion, we’ll be prompted to reconsider the relationship between emotion and technology. What might the next decades feel like? In this last salon, we’ll play with some of the latest innovations and co-design possible futures with feeling.

Purchasing a series ticket is available on this page if you’re signed in as an Interintellect member:

(If you’re already a member, make sure you’re signed in.)

Perks of being a member:

  • Access to series tickets like this one
  • Discount on all other Interintellect events
  • Access to our community forum on Discord
  • Access to all members-only events

More details about memberships here.