The Empathy Machine

VR Oculus Empathy Virtual Reality

What if you could put on a headset that allows you to feel exactly what someone else feels?

Verge publishes fictional stories bi-weekly – not to be confused with their news- and one especially caught my eye. It is called “The Empathy Machine“. The author describes his fictional experience at CES trying out the PathoGlyph Wavelength, a device that allows the wearer to feel the complete emotional journey of a person other than himself.

If virtual reality hijacks our eyes to show us the world through someone else’s, the Wavelength hijacks the whole nervous system.

It is a provocative piece, describing this “empathetic immersion” as the next great medium after virtual reality.

For most of the Wavelength’s “tracks,” PathoGlyph developers construct and place different feelings at key places in the story, the way a film editor might layer audio cues. They’re electrochemical cocktails that produce generic sensations — approximations of sadness, joy, or even complex concepts like jealousy…

Wearers can try out the PathoGlyph Wavelength and choose between different “tracks”, from Henry, a lonely big-eyed hedgehog’s search for a friend to Syria, a bystander’s perspective during a Syrian bombing. The story paints possible opportunities and concerns such a device could bring – from bringing about true empathy to bringing about psychologically damaging effects.

Of course in the real world – that device doesn’t exist. We cannot simply strap on a headset that will allow us to feel the emotional experience of another person; but we can build our empathy skills as people.

What we do have are emotionally intelligent researchers who have developed strong interpersonal skills to be able to empathize with and understand the people they are learning about. And in a world where the message of being more consumer centric has been touted over and over again – many marketers and designers are still sadly out of touch with the very people they are reaching/designing for.


Whether you are creating cleaning products for working mothers in the suburbs or marketing apparel for millennials in the city – you have to understand the world as your consumers see it; or else you miss the mark.  It is a difficult skills to not let your own personal perspectives subconsciously influence the way you imagine others to feel. Our researchers have honed in on important empathetic building skills to be able to paint the true emotional journey of the consumer and draw deep insights that can inform products and communications that will truly resonate.

Of course it probably would be simpler to just put on a Polygraph Wavelength. But until then, empathetic researchers will be the closest we have to stepping into someone else’s shoes.

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