Smile Mirror on the wall, what the heck were you thinking? Menon
If you are fighting cancer, a mirror that forces you to smile seems like a cruel and unnecessary burden.
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I won’t say Smile Mirror is the worst invention of all time.
But in the future, when we look back on dubious moments in human ingenuity, it may well rank with other headshaking products, including the Car Exhaust Grill, Air Conditioned Shoes, Goldfish Walker, Hair Hat and Wine Glass Holder Necklace.
Until this week, when I read a CNN story about the new and diabolical Smile Mirror, I thought the rules around gazing at your reflection were crystal clear.
Whether you’re shaving, combing your hair, applying makeup, brushing your teeth, scrutinizing your wardrobe, rehearsing a speech, lip-synching to a great song or just wondering where the years went, mirror time is private time.
To be locked away with a looking glass is to be free of social scrutiny.
You are never more unguarded than when standing alone in front of a mirror.
It’s just you and you.
But this Smile Mirror, I’m afraid, alters the rules of engagement by imposing a creepy condition on the act of looking at yourself. Using a built-in camera and facial recognition software, Smile Mirror only reflects your image when you are smiling.
If no happy face is detected, the “magical” surface remains opaque and you might as well be staring at a brick wall.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, why must I smile to turn you on?
On his website, the inventor and designer Berk Ilhan says he is focused on “creating experiences and products for cultivating joy.” Nothing wrong with joy. He came up with Smile Mirror after witnessing “a close relative’s battle against cancer” and then learning about how “smiling elevates your mood and reduces stress.”
Yes, but in the reams of research that correlates human happiness with improved health, there is an underlying assumption: the smiling is genuine. If I get fired tomorrow or my wife leaves me or tragedy ensnares someone I love, no amount of fake smiling is going to change how I feel on the inside. If anything, the disconnect between my facial beaming and the situational darkness will only worsen my mood and make my stress levels spike into the red line.
Sorry, Smile Mirror, but self-deception has no physiological benefit. If you tell a man, “This won’t hurt” and then kick him in the crotch — spoiler alert — it will hurt.
“The patent pending invention will not only make it possible for people to ‘gift a smile’ to loved ones combating a difficulty, but also will uplift people in private and public places such as homes, offices, hospitals, clinics, urban spaces, and any other place where smiling would brighten the spirit,” reads the Smile Mirror website.
Again, this guy deserves credit for wanting to help cancer patients and others who may be down in the dumps. But assuming you can afford the $2,000 to $3,000 price point for a beta version of Smile Mirror — Ilhan hopes to generate revenue via crowdfunding, which could help lower the cost to consumers — the reality is you are not gifting a smile so much as inflicting an expectation that may or may not dovetail with the recipient’s mood, especially when times are tough.
If you are fighting cancer, forcing a smile seems like a cruel and unnecessary burden.
So while the intent here is noble, the end result is kind of sick.
Research also shows that exercise is a key to good health. Does that mean someone should invent a pair of Mandatory Motion Sneakers that explode and cause bodily harm if they are not used for a 2K jog each morning? What about a Hungry Fridge that only unlocks when stomach-sonar detects the user is indeed famished? Or a Productivity Bed that uses tracking sensors and a hydraulic mattress to eject anyone who attempts to get horizontal before the day’s chores are done?
Whether it’s emotion-recognition or apps with voice-sentiment analysis, technology is already nudging us toward a “smart” future in which inanimate objects will be able to read our moods and respond accordingly.
One day you’ll just have to scowl at the dirt on your carpet and your Roomba will power itself on and start cleaning. And it won’t be long until you ask Siri a question and she replies with, “I don’t like your tone right now, ask again later.”
But no amount of lifestyle gadgets or artificial intelligence can change a basic human truth: one of the most reliable ways to elicit a frown is to tell someone to smile more or ask why they aren’t smiling at all.
A forced smile is an unnatural smile. It is a lie. And asking someone to smile is asking for trouble because what you are ultimately doing is suggesting they are not sufficiently happy, which can’t possibly make them any happier.
Knock it off, Smile Mirror. Accept this face as it feels.