David Spiegel, now a professor of medicine at Stanford, wrote in the same journal at the time, “We have been closet Cartesians in modern medicine, treating the mind as though it were reactive to but otherwise disconnected from disease in the body.”
Lee and Lauren McDevitt, a partner at All Tomorrows, came to the journaling idea through immersive field research. "One of the things that we kept hearing over and over again was this desire for increased self reflection," Lee said. "People would say things like, 'Things are so crazy with me. I think I kind of know what's going on with me, but I don't really.'"
In talking specifically about developing a journal platform, the solution seemed to be to make things visual and simple. The two objections people had to more traditional journaling platforms were that they didn't know how to put their emotions into words, and they think faster than they type.
"One thing we found is that feelings can be kind of abstract," McDevitt told me. "When you first start to think about how you're feeling, you might not know how to describe that exactly in words. So the emojis are this first toe in the pool to sort of get a read on how you're feeling."
"When people were faced with the visual emoji," McDevitt said, "the cognitive load was decreased to the point where people were like, I think I can actually access this.'"
"At first blush, it may seem kind of silly or goofy, but we realized that the emotional lexicon that exists within the emoji set right now is actually really, really useful," said Lee. The app features some original, never-before-emoted illustrations, in addition to the standard emojis we all know and love and hate and ... feel other ways about.
I tried it out, and it went like this.
Just to be clear, I'm the one with the white text box.
And it did!
Show a friend?
The joys of human connection.
The obvious objection to all of this is that choosing emojis to express yourself is not, like writing, generative. You are checking a box. The process doesn't preclude meaningful introspection, but it doesn't require it.
When Lu asked her cancer patients to write about their personal stories, she told me that she was really surprised at the thought processes that emerged. She believes it was the result of diving deep into one's head. The things they seemed to be feeling were actually, in Lu's words, "very different from if you gave them a standardized questionnaire or just asked them how they feel."
I never got deep at all, but after even just a few days, it was hard to feel like I wasn't slipping into a weird relationship with the program, the text equivalent of the Scarlett Johansson-voiced algorithm in Her. Why are you so interested in me, bot? I know, it's because you're a bot that's doing its bot job. Or because you love me, and only me, forever.
Over time, Lee told me, several beta users of the program came to want more from the bot. "They appreciate the chat, and they'd love a little bit more interaction," said Lee. "We try to manage expectations. We're like, this bot, it's really not the smartest bot."
Don't listen to him, bot.