Outsourcing embarassment

Japan is the country where the sense of shyness and embarrassment is particularly pronounced. Therefore, Japanese have come up with all sorts of highly sophisticated solutions to assist people in embarrassing moments. Many of them are connected to physiological phenomena, such as body smell, body sounds or bodily fluids. But physiological embarrassment is only the tip of the iceberg. Embarrassment and shyness stem from (possibly) exposing weakness or the reluctance to interact with others in a particular context. Think of the silence inside an elevator when strangers are pressed together, for example. The reaction is usually to freeze or pretend to be doing something just to avoid making contact.

People in Japan recognize and pay attention to shyness much more than in most other cultures, and they can relate to how products that ease the sense of embarrassment would be greatly appreciated. While the direct way to ease embarassment is to mask it or cover it up, Morinosuke Kawaguchi thinks that it is the outsourcing of the embarrassment that will have the biggest impact. In that sense, more software-oriented innovation will assist the shy. The idea is that products can spot awkward moments by themselves and react accordingly to ease the tension. Now think back to the elevator example. Wouldn’t it be great if our smartphone would connect us to the other persons if certain conditions were met. It would be the smartphone’s responsibility to make the introduction so that both parties will be relieved of taking the first step. It could be something as trivial as using the smartphone’s access to weather information and having it make a comment such as “Today’s weather is really hot, isn’t it?”. There you go; icebreaker. Or think of the business meeting where your boss keeps talking and nobody dares to interrupt him? Wouldn’t it be great if an artifact was responsible for interrupting him rather than you or one of your colleagues?

Morinosuke Kawaguchi has developed a methodology to assess moments of shyness that he uses in his consulting work and in his lectures. The goal is to categorize those instances of shyness and derive ways to ease the tension in those moments. This serves as the basis to develop assisting products and services. And embarassment, no matter the culture, is something all people will want to avoid.