This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, in response to Matt Jones’s view of smartphones as companion species. For want of a better label, I’m calling it 2012 Tamagotchi.
(Although I’m aware that Jones is discussing about structural, functional, sensing behaviour and I’m really talking about something that’s built on top of that. To my mind at least, the things I’m talking about are not the “frustrating analogues” he mentions, like Siri or Clippy. They are not that contrived, but at the same time they are pretend creatures that attempt to have a relationship with humans. In the same way that Little Printer has a body language, 2012 Tamagotchi has an emotional behaviour or tone. They are a way of bringing voice to the interface.)
It’s not New Aesthetic as such, because it’s not how machines (visually) see us. It’s not really New Relationship either, because it’s existed in one form or another for a long time. But smartphones and other connected devices are deepening and broadening the relationship very quickly.
2012 Tamagotchi nags you when you haven’t done what it wants. And it sometimes has an ambivalent, perhaps sarcastic, tone of voice like the Wii Balance Board when you’ve not used it for ages.
2012 Tamagotchi carves off a piece of human behaviour and attempts to create and own an emotional relationship around that. It celebrates your achievements when you’ve done well, like Fuely in the Nike+ FuelBand app.
2012 Tamagotchi sets out to instruct and orient you in the world. That’s why it exists. It’s not a toy on its own any more, it’s a pet with a purpose. Maybe that’s why, outside of the world of health and fitness technology, 2012 Tamagotchi often (and unsurprisingly) appears in digital products for children. Steering you like Oddizzi, giving lots of juicy feedback (excuse the pun) like the leaderboard characters in the Robinson’s Champion of the Playground network.
I’m sure there are lots more examples beyond these few. Can you think of any?