I had posted this to my own blog, but after the conversation our class was having about post-human, transliteracy, digital imprints, artefacts, and more, I was inclined to bring it here. I want to make the case that digital culture is inherently an emotive culture, a living, breathing, feeling organism, subject to the same whims, anxieties and joys collectively as we are individually. What about a tool for digital empaths? What if I were to be able to read the emotional content of the entire room? The entire country? The entire (digital) world?

If I had tech skills of any sort, I would just go ahead and do this rather than blare it out into for anyone to build, but sharing is caring. So here is my rather simplistic request for a filter/mashup/visualization (if the Googles of the world are listening in). I want to be able to do an emotive analysis geographically using Google Earth. What I mean by an emotive analysis is that I want to visualize sentiment across regions based on a series of criteria (and truly the more that can be included, the better) such as:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • News stories/cycles
  • Public discussion boards/chats
  • SMS
  • Blogs

I have seen some small-scale versions of this done, most notably (or at least most aesthetically) BBC’s White Spectrum, which took responses to specific hot-button questions and mapped those emotively. It is aesthetically luring and disconcerting at the same time and perhaps the greatest use of sound for ambient unease.

BBC White Spectrum. Visualizing emotion for controversial issues.

This is a good approach to analyzing emotive data online, but it doesn’t scale out very well. It required a precise data collection tool (presumably a survey question) and a precise structure for extracting emotional vocabulary (upset, angry, frustrated, glad, happy) and mapping that to larger emotional categories (happiness, sadness, etc.). I am looking at you, taxonomists of the world. This thing would need a fairly sturdy, scalable structure. More importantly, it would need to collect a lot of non-emotional data, namely location (fairly precisely, too). The filters that White Spectrum have in place are good and map, I imagine, directly to their collected data. But I want this thing to scale out globally. And I want it to incorporate digital cultures as well (the emotive temperature of World of Warcraft? Second Life? Think Twitter trending, but on an emotional, rather than topical, scale).

Filter this.

Now imagine a layer on Google Earth for all of this and an emotive search engine running underneath it. One that trolls the aforementioned sources and pulls emotive vocabulary, geolocations, and contextual data (what they were talking about that caused this emotional reaction). Gathering that data, we can then map it onto Google Earth and monitor emotional activity worldwide. What practical application does this have?

I can imagine some fairly rudimentary things happening on certain fronts. First, it would help analyze the effects of larger social issues on the emotive health of a region, like natural disasters, economic volatility, even political or social unrest. More importantly, it might prove an effective tool for predicting social unrest. We monitor the emotional health of the region much as we would climate conditions or economic activity. Either way, it would just be plain neat. And when was that not a good enough reason to invent something. So, I throw down the gauntlet. Invent it, you dataminers and creative types. And if this already exists, color me embarrassed, but please do let me know.

And yes, it is surveillance. That much I admit. A tad dystopian that way.

Not a lot of emotive unrest here. The view from my apartment in Princeton georeferenced on Google Earth.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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