A Pocket Radar For Tracking World Happiness

Ever feel like everyone on Twitter is having a better time than you are? Now you can find out.

You hold a screen in two hands, point it any direction, and then see how happy the world is in the distance. It might sound like sci-fi, but the Aleph of Emotions, by Mithru Vigneshwara, does just this with technologies we already have at our fingertips.


At its heart, the Aleph is really just a smartphone case, loaded with a compass and an accelerometer. The phone itself serves as a screen. Then when you aim it in any direction, you get a peek at a corresponding world map, highlighting the nearest city in your line of sight. You’ll see if they’re happy or sad, thanks to pre-analyzed Twitter feeds from around the globe, which Vigneshwara cross-filtered for five weeks through keywords relating to Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions–joy, sadness, trust, disgust, anger, fear, surprise, and anticipation.

“I read about a study which suggested that reading online statuses makes people feel that their friends are happier than they actually are. This intrigued me, and I felt it could be interesting to find out how the people of each city portray themselves to feel,” Vigneshwara tells Co.Design. “I wanted to create an object that could archive and visualize the emotional levels of cities around the world.”

As further inspiration, Vigneshwara grounded the idea with Jorge Luis Borges’s ideas of the “aleph,” a point in space from which all other points can be seen. Thanks to a layer of augmented reality, any user can become that aleph, seeing through buildings and mountains to the feelings of those thousands of miles away.

It’s a powerful idea–so powerful, I was curious as to whether Vigneshwara saw the idea as viable in the commercial space. He didn’t, and maybe on the global scale, he’s right. But on the local scale, there is potential value (and marketability) in a project like Aleph of Emotions. Imagine a real-time Yelp, a way you could enter a city and find hotspots, not based upon user reviews but on how much fun people were having at that very moment. Maybe a lame bar has an incredible band playing. Maybe a fantastic restaurant is short on servers and off their game tonight. Think of the value proposition: Where is everyone? And how much fun are they having there?

Because even with tools like Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter, that’s still a remarkably difficult pair of questions to answer.

Aleph of Emotions.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.