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5 June 2015

Does my dinner look big in this?

Written by: Natalie Murtagh, Account Director at Edelman

Consumer Trends & Insight, Innovation, Media, Technology

The news doing the rounds on my Twitter feed this morning was that an app is being developed that will count the calories in users’ Instagram food pictures. Artificial Intelligence analyses the depth of pixels in a picture, and utilises “sophisticated deep-learning algorithms” to judge the shape and size of a food item in relation to the plate. Pretty clever stuff.

An obesity crisis has been cited as the main reason for developing the app but when I was reading the story it struck me more than ever how much consumers use technology simply to reassure themselves.

From checking the weather before we leave the house to make sure we are wearing the right clothes, to not committing to eat in a restaurant or go to a certain place on holiday before we’ve read a million reviews online, to avidly scouring the web for reassurance that the new TV we want to buy is any good. These are all things I hear from my own social circles. And it’s not even big expensive purchases that this applies to. Personally I’m guilty of not parting with even a very small amount of my hard earned cash on a new moisturiser or mascara until I’ve read at least three reviews which point to a consensus. As a secondary point, this also takes a lot of time and more evenings and spare time is spent in front of the computer or online on the phone in the name of ‘reassurance research’.

So this new app made me think. In our quest for reassurance about what we are putting into our bodies and how good or bad it is, will it lead to more food waste as we have a moment of realisation about how many unexpected calories are on our plate?

I have no doubt it will encourage people to publicly declare their success on social media when they manage to create a sizeable low calorie dinner – and wasn’t it tasty?! Friends will no doubt share food diaries.  Maybe it will even become the benchmark for enthusiastic amateur cooks, restaurants and food bloggers when they look to prepare new dishes. It could even appear on menus – maybe.

I’m all for clever technology lending a big helping hand and this app, apparently, is responding to popular demand. But every so often we need to remember to just live in the moment and enjoy our dinner. Maybe there will be a rise in downloads of exercise apps to make up for the excess calories we find out we are eating. Time will tell, and then there will be more technology to reassure us further.

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