Annegret Bönemann graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven with an online program that allows you to ‘read’ other people’s feelings while chatting. Like emojis, but not exactly.

Is there a difference between empathy online and in real life? Yes, explains Annegret. Research shows that that the immediacy of a face-to-face conversation increases the focus on the interaction while interacting via computer increases self-awareness, And since we devote a substantial part of our lives to screen time, she came up with a way to better understand the emotions of others. Over a cup of coffee at Cafe Lucifer she opens her laptop to show how.

Photo credits: Ilias Katsouras

For her graduation project Vivid Text she studied nonverbal communication  and worked with a facial recognition algorithm that can read parts of the face; that interprets wide open eyes as amazement and a corner of the mouth that pulls up as a smile. The chat program she created works in conjunction with the camera on your computer. While you’re chatting, the program registers the movements in your face and instantly translates them into the conversation texts on the screen.

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When you’re angry, for example, because your bike just got stolen, the other person will see large, heavy letters. On the contrary, when you write smilingly about the love of your life, the letters will almost be dancing on the screen. Every letter you type will immediately appear online. The words also disappear after a few seconds. Annegret wants to come as close to a real conversation as possible. Spontaneous and intimate, although you don’t see each other.

When you’re in a real conversation, the trick is to listen and to observe, because a lot of the communication is nonverbal. It is an aspect that is completely lost with online chatting. Of course you’ve got emojis, but they are far from ideal. “It interrupts a conversation because you have to search for the right picture and then hope that the other person understands it correctly.” An emoji that you interpret as sad, might look as tired for another. With Vivid Text, this whole process takes place in a much smoother way: the emotions appear while typing.

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Author profile picture Renske Mehra is a writer. She makes understandable and interesting stories about difficult subjects.