an Emotional Compass: new ideas for wayfinding in cities

Why would we need an Emotional Compass?

And, first of all, what is an Emotional Compass?

“The map is not the territory.” – A. Korzybski


“The map is not the thing mapped.” – E.T. Bell


“The tale is the map that is the territory.” – N. Gaiman


“We say the map is different from the territory. But what is the territory? The territory never gets in at all. […] Always, the process of representation will filter it out so that the mental world is only maps of maps, ad infinitum.” – G. Bateson

When we experience territories, we create stories.

We model these stories using mental maps. These maps have seldom anything to do with what actually lies within the territories themselves. A mental map refers to one person’s point of view perception of their own world, and is influenced by that person’s culture, background, mood and emotional state, instantaneous goals and objectives.

If we move along the streets of my city in a rush, trying to find a certain type of shop or building, our experience will be different than the one we would have had if we were searching for something else.

Focus will change.

We will see certain things and not notice other ones which we would have noticed otherwise.

Some things we will notice because they are familiar, common, or because associate them to memories and narratives. Some will stand out because they react with some element of our culture or background.

All this process continuously goes on as our feelings, emotions, objectives and daily activities change, creating the tactics according to which we traverse places and spaces, to do the things we do.

In the density of cities, this process happens for potentially millions of people at the same time.

In his “the Image of the City”, Kevin Lynch described cities as complex time-based media, symphonies produced by millions of people at the same time in their polyphonic way of acting, moving, interpreting, perceiving and transforming the ambient around themselves: a massive, emergent, real-time, dissonant and randomly harmonic, work of time-based art with millions of authors that change all the time.

In this, our mental maps – the personal representations of the city which we build in our minds to navigate them to fulfil our needs and desires – live a complex life as our perception joins into the great performance of the city.

Dissonance is the essence of the city itself, and represents its complexity, density and opportunities for interaction.

Harmony represents affordances, the things which are recognised and shared by different cultures.

Those elements of the perceptive landscape onto which we can agree upon, which we recognise and attribute compatible meanings, allowing us to collaborate, meet, do things together.

For example, Haken and Portugali have suggested a broad definition of landmarks to refer to any distinguished city elements that shape our mental map. Or as Appleyard, Golledge and Spector who have conducted studies about the imageability of urban elements not because of their visual stimulus but because they possess some personal, historical, or cultural meaning.

These features found within our mental maps enable the possibility to design the affordances of places and spaces. We can use the understanding of what is consistently recognized and understood to design the elements of space/time which will be able to describe to people what is allowed or prohibited, suggested or advised against, possible or imaginable.

Lynch’s concepts of legibility and imageability are closely related to James J. Gibson’s notion of affordances developed in his direct perception theory, according to which the objects of the environment can afford different activities to various individuals and contexts. And, again, in Haken and Portugali, all elements of a city afford remembering, as they shape in the mental maps in human minds.

In a further step in the direction of citizen activation, we can also imagine to make this type of understanding widely known and usable, to enable people to express themselves (and their mental maps of how they perceive the world) more effectively and powerfully.

These possibilistic scenarios have become radically viable with the widespread of ubiquitous technologies. Nomadic devices (such as smartphones) and their applications we are able to merge our physical understanding of the world with the digital one: the two have, in fact, become so interweaved and interconnected as to form a new physicality, visuality and tactility which shape our everyday experiences of the world.

According to Mitchell’s “City of Bits”, McCullough’s Digital Ground, Zook’s and Graham’s DigiPlace we are constantly immersed in emergent networks of interconnected data, information and knowledge which is produced by millions of different sources and subjects in the course of their daily lives.

This data and information radically shapes the ways in which we have learned to work, learn, collaborate, relate, consume and perceive our environment.

If we are strolling in a park and we receive a notification of some sort on our smartphone, the natural environment could instantly transform into an ubiquitous, temporary office.

If we want to make a decision about a certain thing we would like to purchase while in a shop, a quick look online will help define our opinion in ways that can be very powerful.

If we receive a message on our smartphone, our mood could change for the rest of the day.

Situated and ubiquitous information is able to powerfully transform, in real-time, the ways in which we experience places, objects and services, by providing the wide accessibility of other people’s stories, emotions, expectations and visions.

This scenario is the one we have tried to address in our research: the conceptualisation, design and implementation of a tool for urban navigation, in which the emotional, narratives expressed by people while inhabiting and using urban places, spaces and objects become instantly and radically available, accessible and usable.

We used this approach to define a novel vision on the opportunity to design new types of affordances for our cities.

We have decided to start from the idea of a Compass.

You can find a first result of our research here at the following link:

An Emotional Compass Harvesting Geo-located Emotional States from User Generated Content on Social Networks and Using them to Create a Novel Experience of Cities

An Emotional Compass harvesting emotions from social networks

An Emotional Compass harvesting emotions from social networks

7 thoughts on “an Emotional Compass: new ideas for wayfinding in cities

  1. Pingback: an Emotional Compass: new ideas for wayfinding in cities | Design Interaction

  2. Pingback: an Emotional Compass: new ideas for wayfinding in cities « Connecticity

  3. Ciao Salvatore,
    bel lavoro davvero!
    Ho sviluppato un sistema simile (ma molto meno avanzato) per aiutare i miei pazienti a tenere traccia delle emozioni che si attivano, nella giornata e durante la settimana, nei diversi contesti di vita. Il sistema (in sperimentazione), accessibile da pc, tablet e smartphone, tiene conto di 49 stati emotivi suddivisi in emozioni basiche ed emozioni non-basiche e di 9 contesti. Ad ogni traccia registrata l’utente indica il contesto di immersione, l’emozione, l’intensità dello stato emotivo (4 livelli), pensieri (255 char), azioni (255 char) – cioè cosa ne faccio del mio sentire – e alcuni commenti liberi.
    Prima di ogni incontro ricostruisco il timeline degli eventi e la mappa dinamica degli stati emotivi attivati nei diversi contesti, quindi lavorariamo in terapia sui dettagli e i vissuti raccontati in prima persona.
    Mi piacerebbe parlarti di un progetto open che ho in mente da tempo ma che al momento è limitato a queste sperimentazioni che provo a realizzare nel contesto terapeutico per aiutare le persone ad acquisire una metodologia di osservazione degli stati emotivi e a tenere traccia degli eventi emotivamente significativi che poi vengono articolati meglio negli incontri.
    Sarebbe lungo qui ora spiegarti. In sostanza la tecnologia ha spostato parecchio il modo di sentire e di agire di tutti noi (già a partire dagli anni ’50) verso una modalità che Riesman definiva “eterodiretta” (vedi The Lonely Crowd). Questa modalità di essere implica emozioni sempre meno basiche (incarnate ed immediate) e sempre più non basiche (cognitive, legate a processi di pensiero e mediate dall’alterità) con tutta una serie di conseguenze non banali a diversi livelli.
    Se non ti disturba e il tema ti interessa mi piacerebbe parlarti di come sto cercando di sviluppare la ricerca e di quali altre propettive di indagine potrebbero esserci. Le mie conscenze informatiche sono limitate ma faccio quello che posso con gli strumenti che ho, soprattutto lo faccio per semplice passione.
    Un saluto!

  4. Sarebbe interessante provare a vedere come gli stati emotivi, che orientano il nostro sentire ed agire in ogni istante, consentono l’emergenza di diverse geometrie di rilevanze (affordance) negli ambienti di immersione. Non sono solo gli eventi esterni a modificare il nostro sentire e agire, è anche il modo in cui siamo già emotivamente situati che deforma la geometria di rilevanze dell’ambiente in cui siamo immersi. L’esito dell’equilibrio tra le due forze in gioco – inward / outward – è diverso per ciascuno di noi, a seconda del versante emotivo nel quale, da sempre, siamo abituati a sentirci vivere. Diversi studi indicano che dall’inizio del secolo, con la comparsa della dario, del cinema, del treno e oggi delle nuove tecnologie, il modo di emozionarsi è cambiato parecchio spostandosi su un versante outward, con emozioni sempre più mediate da contesti e dall’alterità e una conseguente emergenza e prevalenza delle emozioni non basiche tipiche. La dipendenza dai social network e l’uso di pc, tablet e smartphone per tamponare la sensazione di vuoto che emerge quando l’alterità non ci sollecita più (oppure ci definisce eccessivamente) è una delle tante conseguenze e la driva forse più pericolosa che accompagna l’affermarsi della tecnologia nei diversi contesti di vita.

  5. Pingback: Augmented Reality Art: the Emotional Compass featured on a new book | [ AOS ] Art is Open Source

  6. Pingback: Emotional Compass | Compass H2O

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