HOME World Focus
You are my proxy emotion

These days modern people are such heavy users of digital technology that they are uncomfortable with personal relationships and are afraid of expressing their feelings. So we often find some levels that people use to express their emotions which are instinctive and vital in life. These are proxy emotion. Proxy emotions means people, services and other things that substitute for a person’s feelings.  We are going to see what proxy emotions are, why proxy emotions are formed, and what are the types proxy emotions.


What are proxy emotions?

Proxy emotions are something that expresses people’s feelings. It generally includes people, products, and services that represent emotions. People use proxy emotions to avoid difficult or unwanted emotions.

There are three background examples about proxy emotions. The first one is untact technology. Untact, which is a combination of the negative prefix ‘un’ and the word ‘contact’, and means the phenomenon of widespread technologies that replace person-to-person meeting. For consumers who feel stressed about contacting other people, untact technologies, that can introduce products through high-tech IT technology instead of with clerks as well as sell the products, are expanding. A case in point that makes this change with untact technology is the ‘Siren order’ at STARBUCKS. From April 2015, STARBUCKS adopts the service called ‘Siren Order’, which is person-free payment system by which the customer pays at the same time as placing an order and only takes out the drinks at the store. A characteristic of untact technology is to shorten unnecessary waiting time by allowing ordering in advance with a simple touch at busy working hour and to allow ordering without talking to a clerk. In this way we can communicate our complex preferences more conveniently when ordering coffee. In this way, in a society of people tired of meeting and talking to other people and communicating substantial honest emotions, untact technology is used to replace face-to-face contact.

The second background example is ‘the McDonaldization of emotion.’ According to the author Stejepan Gabriel Mestrovic of 『The Postemotional Society』, as people experience their feelings too much, the Mcdonaldizaion of emotion is a process for people to experience their emotions more easily and conveniently. He said that popularly experienced emotions are like the ‘Happy Meal’ made of bite-size pieces that are easy to eat. In fact, although the ‘Happy Meal’ is not a nutritionally balanced meal because it is composed of instant foods, the McDonaldizaition of emotions paradoxically pretends that the ‘Happy Meal’ is real happiness. In this way, the McDonald’s ‘Happy meal’ that highlights light and avoids darkness, means psychology that tries to disregard negative feelings and easily accepts positive feelings. This is similar to following and ejoying an SNS account of cute puppies, but avoiding the annoyance of raising an actual puppy. In fact, the Instagram account that uploads pictures of a puppy named ‘Injeolmi’ has had about 988,000 followers in the three months after the account had created in August 2018. It also usually has about 100,000 likes for each video and picture. The ‘Injeolmi’ owner upload edited pictures and videos to maximize the cuteness and people feel happy while they write comments like “Injeolmi is so cute!” As with the attitude that is quickly satisfied after eating cheap fast food like a ‘Happy Meal,' the number of people, who turn on their smartphones whenever they want to experience quick happy shallow feelings is increasing.

The third background example is digital natives. As IT Technology advances and smart devices become more common, the generation with digital-friendly behavior and thinking by naturally using digital devices and languages from the their birth is referred to as digital natives. In general, they were born between 1995 and 2005. Digital natives lead a digital and mobile life, have leisure activities focused on videos from sources such as Youtube and Nexflix and participate in active relationships in places like games or SNS's. According to ‘App Annie’, a global app survey company, on Jan. 19, 2019, digital natives spend 20% more time on mobile apps and they access frequently used apps 30% more than other generations. These facts shows that digital natives have more mobile usage than the baby-boom generation that was born between 1945 and 1965, and Generation X that born after 1968. Unlike older generations that have experienced both digital and analogue technologies, the digital natives are good at communicating with people than any other generation but are not good at solving problems and helping others when they actually meet others. Also, another distinction is that they are less tolerant. According to Theory of Constructed Emotion’, a recent theory that describe emotions, written by Lisa Feldman Barrett, chair professor of psychology at North Eastern University in the U.S., emotions are not common to everyone, but something that has to be learned and created in social contexts. This theory suggests that the emotions we experience and perceive are not inevitable but are formed  because we grew up in a particular social context where these emotional concepts was accepted as meaningful and useful. In the case of the digital natives, who were born in the late 1990s during the IMF financial crisis, when there were drastic changes and shocks so adults couldn’t afford to teach specific human relations to digital natives children because adults were simply struggling to survive. Thus, when digital natives who didn’t have any people sharing feelings or many opportunities, feel complicated emotion which they should have learned through meaningful exchange, they are embarrassed about this situation. In other words, to learn highly difficult emotions requires a lot of experience and observation. However, as digital natives only interact through digital devices, they don’t have enough experience to learn new and varied concepts of emotion.  Therefore they are poor at expressing their feelings and look for proxy emotions.

In this way, people assign their feelings to others or to services instead of exchanging their authentic feelings. There are several different types of proxy emotion that we will look at now.

The Types of proxy emotion

The first type of proxy emotion is ‘Emotional agents’. Emotional agenst literally acts as a substitute for emotion by maximizing empathy. People get vicarious satisfaction as if they really experience that feeling as they look at vivid feeling.  These emotional agents are also expressed as ‘outsourcing of feeling’. Additionally there are cases in which someone wants to experience a hard-to-experience emotion in everyday life and looks for emotional agents.

A representative example of an emotional agent is a broadcast ‘Howl Luxury things’ on Youtube.  ‘Howl’ originally means pull, but these days the meaning of ‘Howl’ has been changed into some video clips showing the opening of a purchased product as if it were swept up in a store. Normally like in these videos, Youtubers show the step by step process,  starting with the packaging as they make a pile in their rooms of brand-new luxury goods such as Gucci, Prada, and Hermes which are not easily bought by ordinary people in. The Youtubers who broadcast ‘Howl Luxury things’ include Hanbyeol, Cheeu, and Lena. ‘Hanbyeol’, one of the most famous Youtuber, uploaded one video entitled ‘About 15.7 million won shopping at Louis Vuitton’ on November 10, 2017. She informed her veiwers that her aim in this video was not for purse pride but for sharing beautiful things together and healing together. Moreover, she added detailed explanations about which parts were pretty and caught her eye. Indeed, with more than 2 million views, there were many positive responses like ‘I saw pretty things well’, ‘I haven’t gone to right in front of the luxury store, but it’s a good thing that I’m able to get a taste of luxury goods like this’, or ‘I was satisfied indirectly’. On the other hand, there are some people who express their discomfort: ‘You brag about your riches’, ‘I felt a sense of relative deprivation about video you howled the luxury goods.’

The second type of proxy emotion is 'a spokesman for emotions.’ The spokesman for emotions play a role that expresses an indescribable feelings in place of the person directly involved. In framed observational entertainment programs, panels who express viewers’ feelings in a vivid way and react in the viewers’ favor, also play the role of spokesman for emotions.

A typical example of a spokesman for emotions is the TV program ‘Heart-Signal.’ ‘Heart-Signal’ is an observational entertainment program in the form of a love-line mystery game. Since the first airing of Season 1 in June 2017, it has gained huge popularity. Season 2 of the show was produced in March 2018. Observational entertainment refers to an involvement of guests talking  about an observed video with viewers. Also it has the form of a framed novel  that has an inside story and an outside story conveying a story. The TV show ‘Heart-Signal 2’ started with a viewer rating of 0.7%. The popularity of the program became so high that its viewer rating skyrocketed to 2.73% on May 25, 2018, which is more than four times higher. In this program, eight men and women live in one house and point at someone that each person likes for a month and the panel members who observe this situation try to understand who is pointing at who. In the past, viewers directly interpreted the emotions of the cast members while watching the TV program but now an observational program in which a panel of celebrities act as spokesmen for the emotions is gaining popularity. Actually, analyzing types of ‘Heart-signal’ viewers with celebrity panels went around. For example, one of celebrity panels ‘Yoon Jong-shin’ was analyzed as a ‘just fun’ type. This type of viewers can separate ‘Heart-signal’ from reality and they think the contents of broadcasting does not represent real life well. So this type is referred to as people who simply enjoy the program. For another example, the panel member named ‘One’ was analyzed as an ‘If it was me’ type that identifies cast members as himself. People of this type sympathize with the feelings of the cast members so shed tears instead of the cast members.

The last type of proxy emotion is the ‘Emotional Manager.’ Like the curator who selectes and informs about appropriate work of art, an emotional manager also performs a role that curates emotions reflected on clients’ situation and manages the clients’ emotions. Sometimes modern men hope to accord their feelings instead of themselves. They also wish for an emotional manager like an emotional coach or an emotional curator service that controls and customizes the feelings of modern men. The most common method of emotional managers is to use ‘emotional curation’, and this is different from the original method of curation. Original curation  recommends products frequented by users of similar characteristics based on population characteristics like age and gender or presents recommended products by category. However there is a difference in that emotional curation is a service which is additionally attuned to the subjective mood and situation of the clients.

In particular music platforms have started to compete for personalized music recommendation based on artificial intelligence processing of this desire. A typical music platform which actively exploits emotional curation technologies based on artificial intelligence is ‘Melon’. Service ‘For U’ which has operated since August 2016 has Korea’s largest  database with 30 million songs and 33 million users and has an analyzing ability by which it can recommend personalized music by analyzing the tastes of users based on their use history. In addition, Melon recommends music based on data like weather, location, and feelings to prevent the phenomenon of providing only biased information when the recommendation function is applied only by analyzing usage patterns. For example, the ‘For U’, curation service of Melon, recommends playlists based on current location and weather of users’ area such as ‘Rainy afternoon, ballad I’ve been looking for’, or based on situations and mood ssuch as ‘Music that beats the blues and irritation while looking out the window now’.

The development of proxy emotion

All around the world, cultures that assign  feeling to proxy emotions are spreading and industries related to proxy emotion are also developing. So, let’s find out what it is.

‘Emotional computing technology’ is a more evolved service than emotional curation, in which a consumer does not have to enter his or her emotional state, because emotional computing technology first detects and analyzes the emotion and takes appropriate action. Emotional computing technology refers to technologies and devices which recognize, interpret, handle, and copy peoples’ feelings or the field of research in this regard. Also, it plays a role that interprets peoples’ emotional state and takes appropriate action about feelings. In particular, this technology is used in cars where the driver's conditions are directly linked to safety. Small AI robot ‘Kirobo Mini’ which Toyota, the Japanese automaker, released on November 22, 2017 is a communication robot that plays the role of sensing driver status. ‘Kirobo Mini’ can control their gesture and tone of voice by recognizing peoples’ facial expressions and noticing feelings with built-in cameras. In addition, it can even understand the driver's emotions and whether the driver is sleepy or not. Its size is no bigger than a baseball so we can take it any place at any time. More than 500,000 units were sold in the first year after its release due to its cute appearance.

As of January 2019, at least 2 billion emoticon per month were used in ‘Kakao Talk’ and 5 billion per day in ‘Facebook Messenger.’ Emoticons have become inextricably bound up with online chat. Amid this sweeping trend, on December 13, 2016, ‘Today Translation’, a translation company in London, said they will hire an emoticon translator as people are beginning to think  that they need an expert who can explains how emoticons are interpreted across cultural, linguistic and generational borders. According to the recruitment announcement, an emoticon expert had to give interpretation of emoticons to customer and to draw up a monthly report about the trends, development, uses, confusion and cultural differences of emoticons. In the two weeks after the recruitment announcement was made public, about 100 people applied for the position. Jirinskin Eur, the CEO of Today Translation, said that the translation of emoticon is more difficult than general language translation and he needs a person who can understand feelings because translation software doesn’t detect the differences in emoticons used in different cultures. For example, when western people use the emoticon that burst into tears from laughing, middle easterners interpret this emoticon on bitterness. Jirinskin Eur also added that the field of emoticons will continue to be verified so it is a worthwhile contribution of time and effort to understand emoticons.

Worries about proxy emotions 

There is a problem with proxy emotions that feelings may be blunted and it becomes difficult to have serious relationships by forming a barrier to expressing one's own feelings. As a result, people are concerned that the power to empathize with others in unexpected conflicts in real situation will fail. In an interview with The Herald Economy on Jan. 27, 2019, Lee Dong-gui, a professor of psychology at Yonsei University, said that it is important to separate reality from virtual reality and to enjoy virtual reality properly. He added that we should continue to understand our real feelings and sense of balance, while enjoying the merits of proxy emotions but not to rely too much on them.

In addition, Lee Dong-gui, also mentioned the importance of expressing emotions and suggested that if the outsourcing of emotions continues, people may lose their true selves. So he said that people must develop the habit of knowing and expressing their own feelings well. ‘Hwa-byung’ which is regarded as a chronic disease in Korea is a problem caused by poor emotional expression and too much suppression. The primary symptoms of ‘Hwa-byung’ are feelings of helplessness, strop, stuffiness, and a feeling of pressure in the chest. According to a survey of 448 workers conducted by Career, a job portal, in 2018, nine out of ten office workers said they had experienced ‘Hwa-byung’. Also according to health insurance review and assessment service in April 2019, patients with ‘Hwa-byung’ have increased by 53% in six years. Indeed, many of these people are suffering from problems, including the development of disease by suppressing their feelings and not properly expressing them. However, there are indications that not expressing feelings by themselves but assigning them to proxy emotions is not a proper solution.


In a society with an excess of emotions that brings a lot of worries and forces the appearance of happiness at the same time, people who don’t have outlets for their feelings are finding proxy emotion. TV programs and products focused on this trend are increasing but we have to be concerned about relying too much on proxy emotions to express our feelings, because it is important to face our real emotions in truth and experience the unique characteristic colors of our feelings whether they are of pleasure or sadness.

석수연  ssy827@naver.com

<저작권자 © 인하프레스, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

석수연의 다른기사 보기
기사 댓글 0
첫번째 댓글을 남겨주세요.
Back to Top