Considering emotions

How do you feel after spending 30 minutes idly browsing social media or mainstream news websites? Frankly, I would venture to say that my happiest and most productive days tend to be those, when I avoid that activity altogether. Mostly, that is about the cognitive noise. This article is not about that.

In a fascinating (and controversial) study, researchers at Facebook and Cornell University showed that the content of users’ newsfeeds may affect their expressed emotions – and possibly indirectly their felt emotions as well.

Discussing this in When technologies manipulate our emotions, the authors pose a thought-provoking question:

Can design ever be emotionally neutral and if not, on what criteria should technologists base design decisions?

It seems inevitable: To the extent that we let our mental world be affected by interactions and observations in the outer world, we would often be challenged to not let products we use or processes we go through impact our emotions.

When creating a product, we are rightfully concerned with making it effective, usable. People using our solution should not only be able to carry out their tasks as they intend, they should be able to do so without confusion or worse yet fear of somehow getting it wrong. Beyond just ensuring that something works, and ideally very effectively, I think it is also generally instructive to pay attention to how a user’s emotions are affected by the product and the process of using it. Does the experience seem positive, enriching – or does it have a detrimental effect? How does it feel?

My two reasons to look at Comcast’s website

There are only two reasons, why I visit Comcast’s website:

  1. pay my monthly Internet bill
  2. check whether there is a service outage in my area.

So, if things are going really well, then I go there once a month to perform a single task. Here is a recent snapshot of their homepage, which illustrates an interesting disconnect.


Given hundred of links, guessing is fair game. Hint: their documentation reveals information about outages, though you may be as successful just searching Twitter.

Atari: Game Over

Atari: Game Over is an interesting exploration of both the rise and fall of Atari and the search for buried copies of the game E.T. Watch it for the stories around the pioneering work Atari did at the time, for a fix of 1980s gaming nostalgia — or perhaps because you have always been wondering what really happened to those games back then. There is a strong cast of contributors here (including Nolan Bushnell, Howard Scott Warshaw, Ernest Cline and, briefly, George R. R. Martin) and the narrative is both entertaining and instructive.

In the end, what happened to Atari?

A simple answer that is clear and precise will always have more power in this world than a complex one that is true.

Nolan Bushnell (co-founder Atari) on the idea of the video game E.T. leading to the demise of the 1980s video game industry.

The movie is freely available online.


A great discovery solves a great problem but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem. Your problem may be modest; but if it challenges your curiosity and brings into play your inventive faculties, and if you solve it by your own means, you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery.

From the preface to the first printing of How to Solve it, by George Polya.