In the physical and mental fields, technology is constantly evolving to assist humans, but what about in the emotional realm? Technology is often blamed for deteriorating social skills, but perhaps there is some way that it could be harnessed to improve our personal interactions. Dr. Hirotaka Osawa of the University of Tsukuba has developed a wearable device called AgencyGlass that may be the first step in assisting in “emotional labor.”

Just don’t think you are going to look cool using it.

I’m sure there is a joke here about socially awkward science nerds, but Dr. Osawa’s work addresses a real issue in sociology first defined by Arlie Hochschild: the strain placed on people when they have to fake emotions in the performance of their jobs.

Like a physical laborer who becomes estranged from what he or she makes, an emotional laborer, such as a flight attendant, can become estranged not only from her own expressions of feeling (her smile is not ‘her’ smile), but also from what she actually feels (her managed friendliness). This estrangement, though a valuable defense against stress, is also an important occupational hazard, because it is through our feelings that we are connected with those around us.”

Other examples of emotional laborers are customer service staff, medical professionals, police and even teachers, who Osawa points out “have to act friendly even when students are rude.” Don’t mention that part to his students, though.

In short, any job that requires you to interact with others face-to-face requires some emotional labor, and as the economy moves from manufacturing to service sector jobs, that includes more and more of us.

AgencyGlass can help people manage this stress. By using OLED lenses projecting images of interested eyes and a gyroscope, accelerometer and external camera to sense and respond to the wearer’s movements and environment, AgencyGlass always displays a friendly and open countenance, making eye contact with everyone and looking interested even when the wearer is bored out of his gourd.

Still need to work on the creepy factor, though.

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Here is a video Osawa produced to explain his invention, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

It is a bit silly, yes, but perhaps there are applications down the road for people with autism, for example, who find it hard to read and reproduce social cues. And who knows, with improvements in design, you may find yourself wanting a pair a few years down the road as you struggle to stay alert through another interminable business meeting.

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Source: IEEE Spectrum, Science, Space and Robots
Images: IEEE Spectrum, YouTube