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This TV Only Works When You’re Smiling

Your enjoyment is not just encouraged, but mandatory.

All too often, we sit mutely staring at commercials, or distractedly flipping through channels, watching our televisions joylessly. But with the Smile TV, a student project by design graduate David Hedberg, you can’t do that: the Smile TV only works when you’re having a good time watching it.

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Presented at the Royal College of Art last month, the Smile TV is a retro-style CRT monitor with a built-in camera system inside the embossed label on the front of the set, which tells viewers to “Smile to watch.”

Watching you as you watch it, the Smile TV uses facial-recognition software to detect when you’re smiling, and only then unscrambles the program on the screen: a strange broadcast of action scenes and looping animal clips. To keep the picture unscrambled, you have to keep grinning like an idiot.

“One of my favorite Smile TV clips is the overly happy singing scenes from The Sound of Music up on the mountain,” Hedberg explained to Creative Applications. “The clip itself is not that funny, but the silly scenario we find ourselves in. Exposed smiling to the whole gallery usually gets people cracking up, the ones sitting in front of Smile TV and the ones around.”


According to Hedberg, the Smile TV is meant to juxtapose the way broadcasters and advertisers track engagement in the modern era versus the way they did just a decade ago.

“Just a decade ago it was much clearer who dictates the information which we absorb,” he writes. “Now, with content widely accessible the question is no longer if we can receive but if we are receptive. By expressing that we like something, we have very much become antennas ourselves–transmitting the content on to somebody else.”

Perhaps Hedberg is on to something here. The quality of television programming could only improve if our television sets were programmed to reward broadcasters who were successful in consistently entertaining us, as opposed to just convincing us to passively watch.

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