Today, even as you walk down the street, you’re immersed in a pool of semi-intelligent technology that can predict the weather, track your mileage, or connect you to your best friend at your command. But imagine if that technology could do more. Imagine the possibilities of a world where your devices could detect exactly what you were thinking and feeling, then provide the right amount of interaction, feedback, and content to cheer you up, calm you down, or help you achieve your goals.
Sound like the plot of a sci-fi movie? Well, advances in wearable technology indicate we may not be so far off from such a reality.
The Power of Invisible Technology“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”
— Mark Weiser
The idea of ubiquitous computing was first proposed by Mark Weiser, former chief scientist at Xerox PARC, in 1988. It’s the idea that eventually, computers will become an invisible part of our environment, seamlessly integrated into every surface and object we interact with. The more well-known modern incarnation of this idea is the internet of things, which suggests that eventually all of our objects, from ovens to fridges to tables to cars, will be internet enabled and connected in a seamless, communicative network. It’s not a new idea, but wearables are beginning to bring us into that technological network.
From the Fitbit bracelet, which monitors your heart rate and tracks your exercise, to the Muse headband, which measures your neural activity, wearable tech is becoming increasingly interactive and responsive to a number of different biomarkers. Interfaces that provide biological feedback are the technological frontier for human-computer interaction, and a trend that content creators and marketers need to keep a close eye on. The next big marketing transformation will require another creative leap to bioresponsive content.
What Is Bioresponsive Content?
Bioresponsive content is content that adapts to changes in various biological markers—e.g. skin temperature and heart rate. For example, the new Fibit Charge 2 includes personalized guided breathing sessions that monitor changes in your heart rate to set a personalized breathing rate for the exercise. If your heart rate is higher, the program will start off at a faster breathing rate than if your heart rate is lower, gradually encouraging relaxation and mindfulness at a personalized pace.
But while the potential for wearable technology that measures biological factors has largely been talked about in the context of health care, the possibilities extend far beyond that. Wearable technology could help us understand more about how our audiences respond to stories by monitoring biological changes over the course of a narrative to determine the optimal length and variation in storytelling that leads to the kinds of emotions we are looking to evoke as content creators.
One study has shown that higher concentration rates can be achieved when content is responsive to the pattern of biological changes in heart rate, skin temperature, and galvanic skin response (a change in the electrical resistance of the skin caused by emotional stress). This could offer insight into how content creators and marketers can design campaigns that hold attention and direct focus more effectively by responding to real-time biological changes.
Why Wearables Are Here to Stay
While many may still perceive wearables like Google Glass as transient gimmicks, psychologists have another perspective. Wearables that tap into biological information offer unprecedented routes to deeper self-actualization (achieving one’s full potential), which is the highest psychological motivator of human behavior according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
If Dave Eggers’ somewhat chilling sci-fi novel The Circle is any indication, the compulsion to know more and more about ourselves in an effort to be the best we can be is what drives technology adoption. In our increasingly busy world, we are always happy to find outsourcing solutions: products that do more of the work for us—especially if they offer ways that we can be even stronger superhumans than we already are.
What the Future of Bioresponsive Technology Could Look Like
Researchers at MIT are attempting to take bioresponsive systems to the next level by removing the wearable element altogether. They’ve developed a device called EQ-Radio that measures heart rate and breathing via radio waves, with no device attached to you at all. It’s able to recognize four distinct emotions: pleasure, joy, anger, and sadness. The device uses the same carrier frequency as Wi-Fi, so it could fairly easily be built into an ordinary Wi-Fi router or any other Wi-Fi-enabled device. Such a device could one day offer the potential for remote emotion sensing, even without the knowledge of the person being monitored.
You could sit in front of your TV and let it determine what show you’d most like to watch given your current mood, without having to wear, do or say anything—or your phone could regulate and reduce the number of notifications you receive if you’re feeling stressed before you even pick it up.
If all of this seems like it’s still a long way off, just consider how quickly we went from not having the internet to Google becoming a verb in the dictionary.
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BiographyMore Content by Nicola Brown