I get told on almost a daily basis to smile. Not because I'm a big grump — nope, just a combination of having a mean resting face and, uh, being a woman. I am also a notorious procrastinator who continually has to trick herself into doing work, so when I heard about Don't Worry Be Happy, a new app that will delete your work if your face is too angry, I was, at the very least, intrigued.
Created by Samim Winiger, an engineer and artificial intelligence researcher, Don't Worry Be Happy is an "emotion enforcing" program that analyzes your facial expressions and responds accordingly. In this case, "accordingly" means "giving you a few seconds to re-arrange your face, and then deleting your work if you don't." It's high stakes, you guys.
Why would anyone want to do this to themselves? Possible to boost your productivity. "Arguably, during any creative process our mental state is the single biggest factor for creative success," Winiger explains in an email to Bustle. "Don't Worry Be Happy playfully explores such ideas."
If you're thinking, like I did, "OK, but just because I'm smiling doesn't mean I'm happy," that's true — to a degree. But studies have shown that making an effort to smile more can boost your mood, which seems to be into what Don't Worry Be Happy is tapping.
And Winiger doesn't see his app as emotion policing; rather, he hopes to use emotion detection technology to create real change in our society. "Emotion policing is a scary dystopia," he writes to Bustle. "While the risk of such a future is real (the NSA clearly is bullish on emotion detection), I find it more productive to focus on the flip side of this equation: Empowering people to be more creative, more of the time."
OK. Fine. Consider me sold. I want to be part of the perma-happy future constantly churning out creative masterpieces. That sounds rad, so I thought I'd try out this text editor for myself. Baby steps, you know?
Here's where it immediately became tricky for me: It's, uh, really hard for me to smile and write, apparently. And my neutral face reads exclusively as angry. So I lost all my writing, all the time, within 10 seconds.
And then, of course, I started to get irritated because I do not like failing; I do not like trying to constantly recompose my face; and, as it turns out, I dislike being told to "be happy" by a computer just as much as I do when it's coming from a dude commenting unbidden on my countenance in my day-to-day life.
Although I see where Winiger is coming from, it's hard to ignore the context in which many women, including myself, so frequently encounter someone or something telling them to smile — and although Don't Worry Be Happy clearly isn't targeting women in particular, the effect is strikingly similar. There is value to be had in maintaining a positive outlook — but maybe the way to achieve that state isn't by giving us a failing condition when we don't smile enough. There's got to be a more positive way to enforce positivity, right?
Or maybe I am just not the right person to be pioneering this stuff. I'll, uh, check back later.