Affective Maps Are Coming

Traffic apps like Waze use mobile phone data to determine where traffic is coagulating. StreetBump, an app developed in Boston, uses not only the location but the accelerometer in your phone to detect violent bumps as you drive. From this they can locate car-eating potholes without forsaking the comforts of City Hall. SeeClickFix is an app that lets people report the potholes directly.


Now here’s a story about yet another way to crowdsource a map of the city. If you’re riding your bike and you feel unsafe, you can push a special yellow button on the handlebars. The idea is that, if enough people do this, city planners will find out which roads are unsafe for cyclists. Or at least where people FEEL unsafe. I find this last application especially interesting, because it results in a map that displays how the environment makes people feel. The landscape thus revealed is subjective. Subjective, but extremely useful. It is an affective map.

In this case the affect is one dimensional and based on explicit reporting: I feel safe/I don’t feel safe. But hypothetically, let’s suppose your phone can infer your mood at any given time. If it reported it back to a Big Affective Map, we could get a sense  for where the world makes people feel good and where it makes them feel bad. As with all big data problems, once you get enough data, you can smooth out the vicissitudes of any one person’s moods and see the micromood impact of every place people go. What’s your neighborhood’s Spatially Averaged Net Affect? What is the Integrated Affective Cost of your jog?

If your phone isn’t smart enough to figure out your mood now, it will be soon enough, particularly considering the various wearables, paste-ables, and insertables that people are acquiring. Heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response… soon your phone is going to know your mood better than you will.


One way to use this information is to layer it on top of routing software. There is already an app that tries to find the prettiest route from A to B (as opposed to simply the shortest or fastest). But who decides what is pretty? An affective map would be the ideal way to achieve this goal.

Affective maps are coming, and they’re bound to have endless uses. Imagine doing physical A/B testing on civic improvements. What kind of playground equipment do the kids like best? What yields more happiness per person-square foot: a baseball diamond or a soccer field? What architects should command the highest fees? And just imagine the effect on real estate prices or university ratings.

I believe that affective street maps are just the beginning. We’ll be able to apply deep affective mapping to artifacts and individuals. With the advent of digital manufacturing, it’s not a stretch to say that we’ll be able to mutate and modulate made objects continuously based on how well they perform affectively across geographic and cultural domains. If you’re from Ohio, you’ll probably like this kind of stapler. I can’t explain why, but our big computer says that it’s true. And I bet it’s right.

2 thoughts on “Affective Maps Are Coming”

  1. Where’s the button I press to indicate I’m very happy your blog is back?
    Ah, here it is

  2. I’m glad you found it again after two years! I think feed readers are helpful that way. You might never delete someone from your list of feeds, and then one day, POP! Here they come again.

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