The Emocode
Susanne Piët

Zen Master:
“To be caught in a notion of self is bad.
To be caught in a notion of non-self is worse….”
The experience of identity

It is a recognised fact: ever since the fall from Eden, man has been looking for his identity and has been known to compare (discriminated) his own with that of others. But his search, it has been found,has always been promoted or hindered by the presence and possible threat of negative judgements from others. And so, it is likely that since ancient times he has been vulnerable and was even then already looking for ways to attack or to find hiding places every now and then.

This is nothing new. What is new, however, is that man has so many ways. What is new is: man knows this. He has the means of knowing, therefore he is no longer innocent. Man worships the same Role Models, the same Icons. What is new is that the craving is Massive and aimed in the same Direction. What is new is: it is hunger or thirst that threaten his life most, not even physical danger, but social isolation is what he dreads most, of being lost. Man knows about almost everything anywhere now. And he cannot escape this fate or himself, though he tries daily and stubbornly, when he is the consumer.

The Crucial Dilemma

“Our life will never be the same again.” This is what people say after experiencing great trauma, after witnessing a major life-changing event. The statement has been heard throughout all the countries affected by happenings that changed history: Nine Eleven 2001 in the States, the underground railway bombings in London in the summer of 2005, the assassination of a cinematographer in the Netherlands in October 2004, the social and physical implications of the rage of Katrina in New Orleans in August 2005. The same statement but from different people. (At the same time Muslims, people in Africa and Asia deny the importance of those dates: compared to their fate all this was nothing). And so we are alike and we clash all the more.

In a civilization on the move, in which you and I cannot physically, psychologically and socially avoid being confronted with your own species in varied settings, groups or cultures. You know the impossibility of sitting in a public place and trying to avoid the secrets being uttered by people on mobile phones. You have to make a decision. You cannot ignore the Icons either, in real life or in an image, somewhere, magnified, glorified, perfectionalised. You can also almost never flee the excruciating demands of civilised society.

That fact puts you on the run as well. And many of us are moving indeed: the consumer, the parent, the adolescent, the émigré, the fugitive, the exile, the descendant of many races and many cultures, the traveler, the tourist, the host, the child, the member of a group, the worker in the organization, the social climber.

This brings you, time and time again to the Crucial Dilemma: will you face the world or will you hide? A choice that is marked by two possible outcomes:

Safety by social adaptation, assimilating to standards of the powerful group on the one hand (but nothing happening) or

Potential Growth and social risk through provocation, visible expression and revelation of your exclusive identity:

The choice means:
To adapt or come to the fore.
To be visible or invisible.
To be or not to be
To avoid confrontation or to elicit it
To hide or to appear.
To camouflage or to glitter
To follow the rules of make/break them.

The Emocode

It can be exhausting, to be hunted in having to choose all the time, where or how can you feel the comfort of feeling protected and look out at the same time?

It is not a matter, simply, of luxury or entertainment, though the precise point of modern, popular fun is that it is legitimate to drive a person out of a show, game or adventure as seen in many reality programmes on tv, by sms or on the internet. Since this entertainment reached China, it is attracted eight million participants. And, what’s more, the Chinese appreciate the fun. All the more fun because you can have your cake and eat it, you don’t have to choose, you can have both: you can come out of your shell, because you can do it in anonymity.

As almost everybody knows, this Social Game is also played out in real life - its Rules are written in an Identity Barcode. Its effect is the emotional experience of your being.

That why we call this the Emocode.
You are the designer of the experience of your identity. On the inside, on the outside.

If you don’t know its jargon, its use of image, brands, behaviour, style, dress, accessories, idiom, opinions, you run the risk of being evicted, that is: to be excommunicated or worse. But if you are in tune, know the language, put on the appropriate coat of the right values, you can be the designer, you can join the club to which you aspire, you can manipulate how you are to be experienced.

You belong to a social group or you are an aspirational, a wannabe. You can emerge into the world or seek shelter: you can decide: it is expose yourself or hide. Of course you may want to hide when confronted with phenomena such as mobbing, pestering at work, at schools, in neighbourhoods, in closed communities like prisons.

You may want to do it in luxury. Imagine your Saturday morning, your first leisure day in your single existence. You sleep late, and upon emerging from your bed you discover the lack of coffee in your kitchen. Oh, how desperately would you like to be invisible in the supermarket, hidden from acquaintances, the stares of employees, the stalking of the camera. You fervently wish you could you be the Invisible Man, wear a Jester’s cap, find the perfect urban camouflage outfit! And in fact, someone has already designed one: a young student from the Design Academy in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, has invented Paracamera Camouflage…


Wouldn’t it be nice to have a private sanctuary, a place where you can hide, not only from others, and from the rat race of your public daily life, but also from this choice? A place where you can be silent, think about who you are, completely private? Enjoy the scenery, enjoy the sight, without being swept forward by the madness of the crowd, by the mirages of growth and profit, hunted?
A sacred place, an asylum, a refuge.
And wouldn’t it be nice if you could escape the Choice? By sheltering in a bubble that is glamorous from the outside and camouflaged? from the inside?

In a world in which it is possible to create almost anything and in which designers are gaining in power (the Creative Class) man himself should be able to provide for such a need. There is surely a market for it. In fact we KNOW there is, because we already sell and buy such shelters: The sunglasses, the shawl, the cap, the wig, the yacht, the Hummer with tinted glass. Objects, concepts and places are already being used for that. The wrapping of shawls, the burkah, the conservatory, the myths of icons, the stories, even cell phones serve as security shields.

Since people want to have a new life, one that is different from their old one, they need to be able to design their identity, to find a framework for this, maybe a co-designer….It could be anything: a cloak, a building, a bed, a hood, a helmet, your interaction with Play station, a virtual relationship, a stage act, a life story, a lie, a transcendental stage, a concept…..Just a sphere where a person can literally or metaphorically hide and see(k) at the same time.

Dr. Susanne Piët is psychologist and consultant for companies and organizations. Her field is communications and emotions. She taught at the University of Amsterdam, the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the School of Journalism, The Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, The Academy for TV and film in Amsterdam, the Design Academy in Rotterdam. She has served on boards of several cultural organizations. She worked as a journalist and made programs for radio and television. Her dissertation about the human tendency to exceed limits was titled the Harvest of Fear. She has published more than a dozen books. One of her most recent books The Emotion Market received an award in 2004.

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