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The Right to (Digital) Happiness?

Thijs Pepping
June 12, 2017

Right to Happiness
Right to Happiness
Since Homo Sapiens created fire it is entangled with technology. We used it to battle predators, diseases, and each other. While constantly picking the fruits of our newest inventions, we kept improving our technology and build a technology advanced, and technology depended, society. In his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow history Professor Yuval Noah Harari claims humanity is now waking up to the realization that we are so advanced that famine, plague, and war are becoming manageable challenges. We are not there yet, and still have a lot of work to do on national and global level, but statistics show that for more and more people famine, plague, and war aren’t day-to-day threats anymore. Harari’s daring forecast is that humanity has tasted success and will aim for even more challenging goals: ‘To find the key to happiness’. According to Harari modern people feel happiness entitled and anything which makes them dissatisfied is seen as a violation of their basic human rights. People expect the state to serve them and the right to pursuit happiness has turned into the right to happiness.

Digital Happiness

With the exponential growth of technology and the ever-increasing speed of the digitalization of our world, it has become a standard procedure to take technology into account when examining social issues. People know that technology has pervaded their lives. Be it shopping, following world events, forming an opinion, communicating, organizing financial affairs and even finding a life partner. The promises from technology are high; humanity-saving claims run rampant in tech. But people see threats as well. Security-breaches, fake-news, cyberwar, and privacy-violations are now common news and no longer just 1984 fantasies. Technology is everywhere and the impact is complex and dualistic. No wonder that people are asking the logical question: ‘Does all this technology makes me happier?’ And the customer stands not alone in his quest for happiness. Employees bring the same desires to their workplace and with good reason. Shawn Achor, author of the bestseller ‘The Happiness Advantage’, analysed over 200 scientific studies on happiness and concludes that happy employees “have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or become burned out. Happy CEO’s are more likely to lead teams of employees who are both happy and healthy, and who find their work climate conducive to high performance.” It seems there is a willingness among some tech leaders as well to contribute to our well-being on the long term. Elon Musk and Sam Altman (president of Y Combinator) advocate for experiments with Universal Basic Income, Bill Gates for robot taxes, Mo Gawdat (Chief Business Officer at Google’s [X]) is on a personal mission to make 10 million people happy, and Mark Zuckerberg gives Harvard’s class of 2017 a lesson on his meaning of life: “We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful.” Zuckerberg then bemoaned the current state of income inequality: he finds it ludicrous that he is so disproportionately wealthy compared to his old Harvard classmates.

From reviews to reading emotions

Emotion recognition
Emotion recognition
When happiness is moving up the agenda, what will be the verdict of your products and services? Are they contributing to the digital happiness architecture of your customers? These days you don’t have to look far for (superficial) answers. Ratings and reviews are in abundance on, TripAdvisor, Trivogo, Uber, Yelp, Better Business Bureau, and Google My Business, to name a few. Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon states: “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.” But ratings and reviews are old-fashioned, businesses are starting to dig deeper into the opinions and feelings of their customers. Insights from fields like neurology, positive psychology and artificial intelligence have been converted into strategies, products and services to measure happiness. Cognitive API’s like facial and emotion recognition and sentiment analysis show the real inner feelings of the customer. It’s used in all kinds of ways, e.g. to analyse emotional responses on commercials (and thus measuring the potent succes of the commercial),to analyse recorded insurance claims on lying, and to give people with autism an emotional intelligent prothesis. Try it here yourself. The predictions for these markets are high: it is estimated that the affective computing market will grow from $12.2 billion in 2016 to $53.98 billion in 2021.

In Conclusion

The conclusion for now is that:
  1. Happiness is becoming humanity’s explicit goal (instead of only GDP for instance).
  2. Technology will help measuring happiness (and maybe increase our happiness obsession?)
  3. Companies will be reviewed through this happiness perspective: “Does your business makes me happier?”

To be continued..!

I’m hooked on the subject ‘Digital Happiness’ and am looking forward to discuss this with as many people as possible. To find more answers and hopefully even more questions. What is the return on investment and the happiness advantage? Do people need to learn to be sad? How will the social-credit experiments, combined with it’s growing DNA-databank, in China develop? Will China get ultimate social control over it’s citizens thanks to advanced technology? How does the rise of images and video (Vlogs, SnapChat, Instagram, Twitch, Mukbang) contribute to the quality of our digital conversations? Will it be a counter for the unhappiness gained from Facebook use? How can a company hook on to the digital happiness architecture of the costumer?

About the author

Trend Analyst VINT | Netherlands
Thijs Pepping is a humanistic trend analyst in the field of new technologies. He is part of the think tank within SogetiLabs and in his work he continuously wonders and analyses what the impact of New Technologies is on our lives, organizations and society.


    2 thoughts on “The Right to (Digital) Happiness?

    1. Nice blog on very relevant developments. I think you are right in stating that the pursuit of happiness will lead to more attention to emotional responses of humans and sentient machines.
      However at the end you provide only one link to a emotion reading experience. I think it would be nice to add another link, to the FaceReader software of Vicar Vision, an Amsterdam based AI company. The FaceReader software has a strong background in emotion theory and is used in a lot of scientific research but hasn’t made it yet to the general public.
      Keep on the good work!

    2. Wow, that’s an interesting company..! Their FaceReader looks good, and also their other projects such as WPSS, R3D3, and Concort:
      About their Concort-project: “Consumers are continuously exposed to persuasive communication that tries to make emotional appeals. Ultimately the goal of ads and sales pitches is to elicit desire or fear. The current project aims to explore the emotional characteristics of consumer competence. Competent consumers should be able to resist persuasive emotional appeals, at least long enough to evaluate the long-term desirability of the products offered.”
      –> In order to become ‘digital happy’, you have to build new characteristics, e.g. 1) to resist the growing persuasive power of digital technologies, or 2) to be able to reflect upon your online behaviour and see the connections between your online and offline life, 3) etc.
      Thank you for showing me Vicar Vision Adri :).

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