SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Boring Valentine? Get a ‘social coach’

Ever heard of a ’social coach’ device? Suzanne Harrington has and she’s here to tell you all about it in time for Valentine’s Day.

So you’re off out for Valentine’s. Dinner a deux. Great. But what if it’s not? What if it’s boring? Even with the roses and candlelight and romantic shellfish —because nothing says love like a giant prawn — what if the conversation is a bit flat? A bit yawny?

You might be with your long-term partner, who hasn’t said anything interesting since 1998, or a new date who enjoys talking about their gluten intolerance — so what do you do? Fake your own death?

A fatal allergy to crustaceans? This could be unconvincing. If only technology were advanced enough to intervene, as your date drones one, oblivious to your mounting boredom, interpreting your fixed smile and stiffly nodding head as signs of interest.

Boom! It’s here. Thank you, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for what they’re calling a ‘social coach’ — a device that alerts people with conditions like Asperger’s or social anxiety that the conversation is nosediving. In wider usage, it could also tell your date when they are boring you by zapping them on the wrist. A sort of digital STFU device, like Fitbit, but cleverer.

This new wristband can differentiate between happy, sad and neutral conversation, and can gauge tone and pace of voice, via monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature; it can also evaluate pauses, gaps, and fidgeting.

In other words, it can tell the boring person when they are floundering, babbling, trailing off, droning, sweating, or making the person opposite want to reach for their cyanide capsule.

Most of us have an internal pre- installed system to spot these signs of boredom in others — we call them ‘eyes’ — but this system does not work if you are body language blind or emotionally tone deaf. Crashing bores tend to be both, which is why MIT had to invent a watch-type thing to tell them for God’s sake stop going on about interest rates/anti-locking brakes/their collection of Star Wars memorabilia.

This could go far beyond dating bores. It could herald the end of mansplaining. The end of people recounting their dreams, or earnestly explaining movie plots of films you never want to see. No more verbal round robins, where you’re forced to hear about next door’s extension, or your second cousin’s new Toyota.

No more listening to a friend going on and on about their yoga holiday or latest breakup. No more new parents murdering you with tedium about their infant’s sleep and defecation habits. Imagine. No more boring.

The only flaw in this genius device is that it monitors only the borer, not the person being bored.

Imagine a device that could register the reactions of others, like a Speak & Spell for the emotionally illiterate, so that you could directly feed back via a series of low voltage zaps (you don’t want to actually electrocute anyone, that would be disproportionate) until they get the message to liven up their chat.

Bring it on.

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