Can feelings transcend language?

In the oncoming post-global age, people will be asked to accept the wide variety of values found all around the world. Yet these divides of nationality, ethnicity, gender, or generation may be impossible to cross through language alone. Here we focus on “sensitivity (KANSEI)” in looking at the potential for achieving mutual understanding around the globe.



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The spread of the Internet was expected to bring the world together and reduce differences around the world. Instead, the reaction to globalism has been to usher in an age of diversity in which differences are, if anything, more respected. At a time when people are asked to respectfully coexist with others who are different from themselves in terms of nationality, ethnicity, gender, or generation, the most important thing may be to find ways to bridge psychological gaps through non-verbal empathy and sharing.

The subconscious movements of the mind and applying them to business

One good example is neuromarketing—in which measures of brain response are used to study consumption behavior—which, in recent years, has drawn a great deal of attention. Techniques such as eye tracking, facial expression recognition, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which applies medical MRI technology to the creation of visual representations of brain activity, are used in an effort to read subconscious desires that have not yet been articulated.

Analyzing changes in a person’s facial expression as a way to understand what they are really thinking is an interpersonal communication tool that has been used since ancient times without any special devices, but because it is so dependent on experience and ability there are limits to how much can be processed. The technologies mentioned above seek to reveal the movements of the mind without relying on the skill of the one doing the analysis. Research is even underway on how to mechanically extract information about emotions—emotions that the subject may not even consciously feel—from heart rhythm and cardiac waveforms. The ability to identify characteristics such as a person’s tastes or stress tolerance would surely have broad business applications, going beyond simple consumer insight for advertising and marketing purposes to cover, say, research on employee motivation.

Expressing and sharing emotions as electronic data

When the evolution of technology leads to a huge jump in the volume of information available about the movements of the mind, how will this best be shared? With the exception of expressive methods such as music and art, which require special skills, people have generally shared their feelings through language. As a result, it has been difficult to avoid the influence of language barriers and differences in cultural background. The evoution of technology is now showing the potential to overcome such barriers.

When thinking about the future possibilties for communications and communications devices, the emoji-only hashtag introduced by Instagram in 2015 may be a hint.

Hashtags using emoji—visualizations of emotions—rather than text connect people who share the same feelings. Can’t this be seen as indicating the potential for bringing people together and understanding each other through non-linguistic communication?

The birth of emoji hashtags took place in a context of high-speed communication and advanced communication devices. Looking back across the development of the G communication standard, from the 1G of the 1980s to the 4G of today, communication speed has increased by a factor of 10,000 over 30 years. The shift from today’s 4G to new 5G lines that is expected to start in 2020 will bring a further 10-fold advance bringing even higher speed, higher capacity communication with the addition of concurrent connections and low latency. Incredibly, it will even be technolgically possible to share the sense of touch.

As Etsuko Mitsuyama, a member of the THINK HUMAN PROJECT, says, “over the last hundred years, the values that Teijin has offered as a manufacturer of materials and pharmaceutical and medical devices have been primarily physical. But while the scientific and technological advances of recent years have brought material fulfilment to people’s lives, we also face new issues such as the digital divide and uncertainty about changes in the global environment that make it all the more important to satisfy our emotional well-being in order to live better lives. That manufacturers now focus product development on “the experience, not the object” and on “ease of use, not functions” is one small reflection of this. In this context, in order for us to continue pursuing technological innovations and product development that contribute to people’s well-being over the next hundred years, we need to change our approach. Part of this is the focus in our project on sensitivity (KANSEI), which plays such a huge role in people’s feelings of emotional satisfaction. If there are technologies that measure human emotions and make it possible to share them with others in greater detail than is possible through words, I’d like to think about how we can use these technologies to improve people’s emotional well-being.”

Next time, we’ll take a look at the possibilities for the sense of touch.

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