26Engaging the senses in a highly digitized world with Caroline Hobkinson


Join Caroline and I, as we discuss how to engage the senses in a highly digitized world.

Walk away understanding:

  • The impact that covid has had on our senses.
  • How neglected the apps in our body are compared to the apps on our phone.
  • The opportunity for brands.
  • How our personality and taste interact.
  • How eating beats can taste like venison while listening to carefully curated soundscapes.

About Caroline Hobkinson

Caroline uses food and its rituals as performance and social commentary. She has been exploring and investigating the interrelationships between Tech, Food, Art and Senses.

Born in Cologne in 1979, trained at Central Saint Martin’s where she gained a degree in Fine Art and SOAS where she studied the Anthropology of Food for a master’s degree, she has been creating events and sculptural installations, in galleries, museums and public spaces worldwide.

Operating within the intersections of art, design, technology, food and the senses Caroline has been giving numerous interactive talks and lectures on the subject of food and eating rituals for Unilever, Disney, Barilla, Space 10 and many others and her work and research has appeared in numerous publications.

Get in touch with Caroline Hobkinson @linkedin @Instagram www.carolinehobkinson.com


*This Transcript is Autogenerated

Hey there and welcome to the HiHelloSura show. I'm your host Sura Al-Naimi. Today we are joined by Caroline Hopkinson food, all taste food anthropologist, sensory experts with COVID being in our midst and effecting us in terms of us being a lot more digital than in-person. We had a great discussion around, what role do our sensors play now and how are our senses are craving engagement and as a brand, how do we create that engagement?

So we get into all of those elements and it's super fascinating. So join us right now. As we get stuck in.

 Caroline, welcome to the show. Hi, thank you for having me. I'm so excited and I do notice that listeners, you won't be able to see this, but if you check out the videos, you will be able to see this how long you have quite an abundance of flowers behind you.

It's just your natural state of being, or was there something going on this week? I am not a florist, although I think that'd be really nice. It's my birthday weekend. As we all had a really tough time trying to milk it for up to a week this time, I think. Oh, fantastic. Happy belated birthday. I think so this is not your first time on the show, but listeners, this might be the first time you're getting to hear Caroline.

And if that's the case, I strongly invite you to check out the other podcasts that we've had together. So for those of you that don't know, Caroline is a food artist and a food anthropologist, and there are so many other descriptions that we can provide. But before we launch into conversation kinda, would you mind sharing a little bit about yourself and your background?

Yeah. I studied behavior, sensory behavior, the way we interact with our senses or use our senses to warn us of danger, to feel comfort, to recognize it and behaviors to, to mock ourselves do use it a status to say that we don't like. And yeah, I'm fascinated by this. It's really interesting. It's a fabulously interesting time too, because we all experienced that communal disruptor of COVID that all our world was shifted in opposite, disruptive by the parent, by the partner being.

Having the virus as well, but it's a virus that really affected our census. It's like the idea of, we, we had that real fear of losing our sense of smell and offensive taste so much that we forever ended up going oh, maybe I haven't, I can't smell anything. Can you smell something? Or or I can't taste this specific thing.

So we would almost train our senses and be hyper aware. And I think that's a really interesting time to be in because it was such a collective global experience. And I think that led to, talking to people from. The sales of scented candles went through the roof. People started baking sourdough, cooking, reclaiming recipes, sharing recipes, but interacting with our centers in a completely different world, plus opposite being isolated and actually having this tech world.

So I think it's almost a counter trend to have it being in this digital world. The only way I can interact with people up asleep, online and via zoom. And a lot of that I think will stay as well. And it's great. It's great to be able to have a parent-teacher meeting without having to go. Across town, why you can sit here and someone talks negatively about your child.

You can debrief with a glass of wine and that comfort of your home space. So that's the dark. There is some wonderful things, but I think it is amazing because it is something that we travel, we experienced and we put ourselves in zones and we curated this Aqua subconsciously as well. That comfort blanket is the only that comfort blanket and can't be washed for children because it has a particular smell.

So I think we, because of that collective paranoia, we are hyper aware of certain sense sensors and this yes. Smell and food is really interesting. So I think it's really interesting how sales on all on those front, like personal smells perfumes went through the roof as well. And people really experimented and raving, both those things as well.

That's so interesting. And so when I think about the work that you've done previously, all of the work the I'm aware of is the very from the outside, very sensational elaborate, dramatic feasts that, tell a story and take the individuals through a journey. They disrupt the person in that you provide so much unexpected prompts and invitations.

And so has that evolved over the years or what, how are you interacting with brands right now? In this hyper digitized? I think it's it's really, it's a guess. I like to make a statement, but. It is. It's really wonderful just to show people what's possible with your sentences because they're not utilized.

And it's amazing how much we know about our smartphones and the functions. A lot of smart phone alarm, amazing headphones in our electric car, but we don't know, we have all this amazing apps we've become with and the idea that they have not played with, whether it's cross modalities. The idea that if I listen to a certain soundtrack, how can not relate our sense of taste, how we had it, and having those big functions with brands.

It's really interesting. There's a lot of trust for brands to play with the census at the moment, because I think that idea of having a real IRL experience of your brand, it's something that you book people in that can be used as a flagship as well, but you really connect with consumers on that. It bypasses the logical retinas.

So that's how you get into this left hooks and laugh marks was the brand least this last year. Lasting impact on you because I can smell, I can experience that. And I think we've all been to flagship stores of major brands and it is just overwhelmingly beautiful. So having a theme like this, where you walk through I created a walk through where you physically walked through a Magnum for the Magnum ice cream.

You're really peeled off layer by layer. We are really immersing ourselves, truly immersing ourselves in the ice cream and every single layer had a special soundscape that was played with. So it's almost using the senses and the potential of our senses with a high proposal as well. And I think it's interesting because you don't like just by looking at the bookings and how the perception of the public, just people are incredibly hungry to be played with in that way as well.

Yeah, the sense of play. I was reading about that, that people are hungry for that. There's a lot of initiatives, for example, obviously from Lego both for children and for adults. But we're really stalled at the moment with this like light touch and that kind of engagement. Yeah. I think just engagement because any kind of engagement become really clinical, the idea that, physically a mask or something that covers your nose and mouth.

There's a lot of plastic, the idea that our tactile sense we've been deprived, physically depressed, sensory deprived. And I think it's really interesting because. It shifted and cut up, pulled it ourselves into such a digital hyper age. That a lot, whether it's department stores or shopping happens online and opinion forming and interacting with brands happens online.

So the moment I have much less touch points, physical touch points with the brands or where I can experience the brand, but when they happen, they have to happen really consciously and you have to really play up the whole spectacle. So for instance, when I get to actually experience Lego, it has to be in an incredible environment.

It has to really feel touch so colorful, so amazing that I really truly see the full potential of Lego because the buying choice itself will be probably via a third-party browser. Maybe it's Amazon, or maybe. In the UK, John Lewis or wherever it goes, it's very unlikely that they'll ever get me on their own website.

So even that is completely not, won't be curated. So it's as, as much as me typing into a browser going buying this Lego thing. But so when I have the touch point has to be, you have to almost smell Lego. You have to like, put translate the feeling, the excitement of Lego into sound and smell and the haptics.

I think that's a really interesting thing because yeah, it's minimized as well. But I think that is the expense of France. It's minimized for everyone, nothing. So you have to have the idea of people don't stroll it around in city centers and I just idly thinking of what you can buy. So I think we are much more informed consumers.

We're much more aware that every time we buy something, whether it's plastic, that's not recyclable or not sustainably sourced fish, we're making a political and environmental impact choice. Often we know that we have to offset those choices. Bye bye offsetting our carbon footprint. So we've been always lectured and told.

So I think people are very hyper-aware of those choices. So it's much harder to be charmed. And I think we are challenged by our senses, the idea of, Ooh, that smells amazing. Or you come into a room, why am I spending so much money on this jumper? Was this because they're just sending the tissue paper I'm really fully there.

Or in the, like a, from headphones, they are incredibly casking leather line, but I don't get to touch them. And you can't use words. Won't really translate that sensory impact. So I think while they craving this, because obviously we've always been in our comfort zone it's we have, yeah. Iterating that ourselves.

So I think especially often those touch points I used to as souvenirs from travels or the idea of yes, smell. Touching a certain fabric from the sloth from Morocco. It's something that we've been de deprived. And so what are you noticing as you're working with different brands? What kind of have projects changed?

I imagine that they have a lot, what are you doing now or are you just doing the same thing, but on hyperdrive,

I love the hyperdrive. For instance, the marketing budget has changed as well, because I think people really don't know that it's been like positively or negatively disruptive through the political situation, environmental impact, that the idea like print media policy doesn't exist, but there's so much different contents.

It's really hard to see where I'm actually interacting with your brand, but people have algorithms and through algorithms, you actually almost know your consumer more, exactly when this scroll through Instagram, what other brands are interacting with. So the relationship between the brands and the consumer is much tighter.

So they're willing to curate on a much smaller scale, but really celebrating that as well. So whether it's yeah, I've been in wonderful talks with a bang and Olufsen there rather than having a big spray of a marketing budget. They really want to invite. 50 amazing. High-end super clients to this beautiful bespoke dinner added high-end Patel and get the best chefs to really create the bespoke soundscape that you get to listen to through their headphones.

And it's going to be it's very bespoke towards their products to carve out the beauty of the individual products rather than. Catering and hoping that maybe 10,000 people might watch a certain ad or interact with it and we'll be then converted. So it's just more using existing clients or like likely consumers and then really wining and dining them literally wining and dining.

Yes. Because that opportunity to come together physically is so rare. So to make that something with a while, something memorable the, yeah. Part of the tribe, it's almost like a tribal thing because you associate with the smell, the taste you shared that communal experience almost. Yeah. Like it is communal in the way that it's like the idea of breaking bread with a broad experience, that whether it's car companies that get people to go to the seaside, just to see how much of an adventure you have, you don't just promise it venture.

You give people their opinions. And because the consumers, obviously they like to use influences as well, because they're happily sharing that often they actually contracts where you have to, contractually people have to mention those experiences and you almost curate those adventures for their social media as well, but that's on Tik TOK or Instagram.

So I think that's a really interesting thing. So you're almost using those bespoke experience to tell your story. Absolutely. So tell me a little bit about just recently, just, I think in November, December, you did something, a partnership with bang and Olufsen and Selfridges. Tell me a little bit about that.

Cause I wasn't able to visit while I was in London. That was really fun. Self-adjust itself, obviously again has been very disruptive in the way that consumers interact with it because they were obviously losing the footfall. And the idea of truest just idly walking through and people would interact online with it.

So they said are we going to have the most fabulous Christmas based market where we're going to get different chefs and we can experience different brands within the old Selfridges hotel. And it was fabulous because we were. Dr. CUREE like joyride is very much on that lack of joy. The census that everything is really bespoke.

So I created a table where people were literally having the narrative of going through a forest listening to bespoke soundscape have beautiful created food by Andrew Clark is an amazing chef and I'm going up a mountain again with a bespoke soundscape and then diving right into the sea.

So all the menu and everything people would do was actually only told through the headphones. So they'd pressed play and that, so it was a very personalized experience because we obviously knew people's names when they're booked in. So it was very much like someone is whispering you instructions into your ear.

So that was interesting. And that entire menu as well was plant-based I messed up. I'm not vegan, but I think it's really interesting how our census can really bring a life, something that's plant-based and have the perception that it's almost anchored in a bigger environment, like whether it's a seaside or a in the forest.

So we had beetroot, but by the time you eat the beetroot and you were so immersed in the forest that you really felt it was a bleeding Bennison heart. So I think that's really interesting to play with perception of what you're eating as well. So yeah, we literally took people on a joy ride.

How did people feel like it was a Venice and help? How did the the music interact to make people feel that way? From, the Joey Moss of baby spoke like the idea of the recording. So it's about footsteps walking through by chanting, countering a hand in. So by the time that this is obviously plated up and it's like on a bed and the idea you eating it in there and you're lit up, there is a visual cue as well from the beetroot to something that is maybe just it felt they gave me.

And it felt very much to see that yeah, the idea of the hunt, you don't hear the Venice in itself, but the idea that wild animals the, in the forest, it's a journey. So it's so immersive. So you're placing and anchoring someone in that world. It's not just for a sound, it's pretty much like the footsteps that you have been lost, the breathing the mountains, you, but as well, the idea of being in the forest through the continuing of time as well, and especially being able to use fabulous soundscapes as well.

So you're really, truly immersed in world worlds. It's not just two dimensional the sounds in listening to, so you have this. Yeah, immersive sound experience. And then that transitions as the individual is eating. So it's timed with the different courses. Exactly. But it's still it's imminent.

So time that, by the time that you eating a certain leaf, the leaf would have a different soundtrack to the crunch off of something else. It's very bespoke because you can almost cue that. So it's almost like a high pack Congress, the, of the census. So then you would need to know the average time it would take someone to eat that and portion it just, so that sound came on at just the right one. Yeah. So I'm very pleased because actually I did to extra mental musicians to doctors at the conservatoire leads. And so we actually did publish a paper and came up with a new musical parameter, which is the estimated consumption time. So the estimated consumption time ETA.

It's the ECA ECT. If the average time it takes an average person with normal mastication to eat something. So you could average. Yeah. Yeah. Have you managed to average that out? That's so incredible. Wow. I want to experience that and algorithms already used. So I think it's the idea. Every time we interact online or research something up these algorithms, how long we spend online, how much we eat, we actually, that information is there.

And we happily disclosing that. The idea, every time we order food, every time we use the delivery service, they know exactly how we interact properly between the 10, like our irrational choices are most likely between eight and 10, how much time we spend on certain things that we have prettier transparent, right?

And by understanding those algorithms and we can create these experiences. Yeah, or I smell it by understanding them. I can see that, oh, you're more likely to be a sweet person. You have a sweet tooth, you have a strong preference for sweetness because you're an agreeable person. There's a very strong correlation between personality and taste preferences as well.

So based on this algorithm, by just looking at your interaction and your tech interaction, I can almost predict that, oh, maybe she is a bit of a firecracker. She's more likely to like strong flavors, like espresso or spicy flavors. So she's more like an oven, a sheet. She tries to be challenging, challenging herself and coming out of her comfort zone with a taste rather than staying within her comfort zone.

So you can predict that is so incredible. Yes. I like bitter drinks. So what does that mean? I would guess that you like bitter drinks rather than just sweet, simple, straightforward lemonade, because you like challenges. If given the choice, I'm just opposite a soothsayer, it's a bit like a cycle.

It's like it tastes and I love this. So give him the chance of being in your comfort zone and watching the same series over and over, or a roller coaster ride. You would go on the roller coaster ride, given the chance of having something very familiar and sweet and simple, or that incredible bespoke bitter flavor with a bit of a kickback at the end, you'd be like, oh yeah, I have that.

So it's very predictable because if your personality, the way you interact, the way you search, when you answers on your questions as well, it's the same person because. You discovered, or you learned very early on to override the fact that bitter flavors actually signify danger, but there comes a lot of that comes a lot of the idea of oh, I left my comfort zone.

There comes a lot of gratitude afterwards. So that's stepping out of your comfort zone as a positive experience rather than so it's worth it. And I think learning to override that early on other same people who meant to override the preference for sweetness with bitter or extreme spicy food as well, because it's used as a more adventurous example, but it's really interesting often typical male preference in restaurants, that idea of, if you want to be conveyed, convey an image of more adventurousness, you order a very spicy food, rather than something you wouldn't order like a macaroni cheese, but like the idea of spiciness is it conveys like a certain image as well. Learn over time. Yeah, so what are you, what, because you're always in the notion of exploring and researching and you publish it, with academia, what are you noticing right now that you're like, oh, I just, I can't wait to try this out.

Or perhaps something that, all the brands should be aware of when they're constructing their engagements. Yeah, I'm really excited about. Together with food design nation. We're gonna have a big global research thing on the impact on taste in the post COVID world. So I'm really excited to, to kick that off and just to actually collect data on how our interaction with taste changed, whether you had COVID or suffered from COVID, but as well, or just the idea of the paranoia or the fear of getting COVID, how that made us hyper aware of our sense of taste in the way that it's tastes extent and smell and taste.

But I think specifically of taste, how it tastes post pandemic tastes changed. Are we more adventurous? Are we craving more adventurous tastes? So I'm really excited to to actually get some real data and insight because what I'm hearing that people are desperate to try out new flavors to really get out there to be really healthy, that food has a real functionalities, be that thing and talk with a voice coach and the idea of.

People who are just before they're going on a big talk, they would like to eat ginger. They just like that you be really aware that certain foods can modulate our wellbeing and our performance as well. So performance-based foods is a really exciting area and, but I'm really excited to actually be sitting on all this data as well, just to see how tastes in 2020 changed as well.

And like that just the impact on taste post COVID, but yeah, cause COVID but post pandemic, post isolated. Do you have any hypotheses? I think it's like the idea that people couldn't travel. So like the idea comfort food, I think may had enough. So we were trying to break out offered. So I think it's creating that perfect access of joy and usefulness. And I think that's always at the moment when it works, the idea of people care about the environment, but I daily, if it brings me joy, that is perfect as well.

So it has to have sensory stimulation. So something that is delicious, that's something that creates a certain heat in you. Something that keeps you going, especially time-based, it's great as well. So whether it's delivery companies or food companies that can track and modulator that as well. So maybe. At this time, a few months, you supposed to have oatmeal with your coffee, maybe next week from Tuesday to Wednesday, as opposed to have soy milk that will work better or just really bespoke things.

And I think that is the hypothesis will be probably by the idea that people are hyper aware of their taste and wanting to taste it in a different way than before, rather than going back to the new normal. So with that. And you talked about that we have within our bodies, all these apps that already exist, that we're not as familiar with it.

Do you anticipate a rise in our knowledge or brands taking a role in informing us about, and you pull out really hyper aware of that tastes a thing. The census, I think that had a lot of time that idea of reacquainting themselves with cooking and baking or what their, I think health as well, health is a huge idea.

That idea of the immune system, reducing inflammation, the idea of mindless eating is definitely a thing of the past. The idea of sitting there mindlessly stopping a burgers. You're almost being shamed into that from an environmental factor, from an obesity factor, but it's in the way that we have a certain duty towards health.

So I think, yeah. And so when you talked about. Joy. And what was the other word you used joy. And there were two responsibility or rationalities, always that things, because I think it is okay. That's good for the environment, but will I eat this just because it's better for the environment. I'm not going to change my eating habits, but if it's delicious and it's good for the environment, it will get me inside.

I think that's really fun. So yeah, I have a. And electric car. I love driving that. It brings me joy. I said, perfect access between the two or having worked recently with someone who develops pasta straws. The idea of a straw is something that I don't need a straw. So for me, it was always really interesting.

It's do we need a straw? I can just do without the straw, do we need to produce alternative straws? But I think it's like someone who produces pasta straws now, then finding the differently it's a by-product you can almost collect them and make something out of it. I can see that working. So he creates a perfect access of good for the environment, but it enriches my life and it, which is my sense.

Interaction with the world. It's not just rational because I think we're not driven by rationality as like good for the environment sustainable, but it's also good for me as in, from a health perspective. So it's all around. Goodness. Plus, thank you. By the time the public and the personal good as well, because obviously I think brands as well, I think overestimate how much the public good will actually inform our buying behavior, just because it's good for certain things.

I won't physically buy this and interact and start using it as well as the consumer. How exciting? Caroline, thank you so much for spending the time. I can't wait to see your next project. I can't wait to see the results of the study. And so if people wanted to get in touch with you, what's the best way to do that.

Probably give me a shout on whether it's LinkedIn, Instagram, or on my website, Caroline hopkinson.com. And what are you particularly excited for people to reach out to you about what is it that would be like, Ooh, that would be thrilling. If anything, it brings me out of my own comfort zone because for someone who is always pushing other people out of the conflict.

So it's really interesting. It's like the idea of yeah, I'd like to work with rocket science, creating the perfect milk for space, but the idea just, yeah, just really thinking differently, just pushing yourself even further into new avenues and just to see what is what's out there. I know that we we're just about to close, but I'm curious about, because you do create such a sense of ritual for others and heighten the senses.

What are some of the things that you do for yourself? They've just become a part of your ritual that when people visit, they are like, oh, what are you doing over.

A lot of, I love the, which you have someone coming over, taking the code. It's really obvious, but I really like to have a good feel of their code. It's really interesting. I just noticed that the other day that, like your heart, but it's like the idea of at work, this is your coach.

Like I get an extra snip putting that away. Certain like serving someone a drink. I think it's like the idea of what I would like to spend half of the day being really good, having lots of juice, doing lots of exercise. And then I'm owning that for the evening. The idea of being very like more indulgent it's like having that glass of wine or that cocktail or that unhealthier foods brownie bank that is constantly calibrated with the plus or minus.

I'm not sure, but that's like the, like a lot of the idea of scenting from smashing ascending. I truly believe. That's it and send Ken. My, my children laugh about it, but like the idea, but there's bad vibes in the room. I'm literally walking around for some white stage just to just to start fresh.

If someone is arguing, I'm not sure that's helpful, but I really, I think part of it is maybe placebo, but there's a deep rooted belief that these things really make a difference. Also I'm connecting to the idea that you're anchoring that this is a fresh start, both for yourself and for others.

So by saying that it's almost a positive manifestation by walking around, so I'm not sure it's physically the white Sage. It could be anything else, probably what you're burning, but it's like the idea of yet to be walking around with a cigarette. But it's the idea. This is, we just starting fascist that recalibration.

And I really liked that. Punctuated your sense of something that even evening I have, like the sleep candle or it's more lavender base or it's it's really extreme. Like the, before going to sleep, I need that spray and the silk eye mask, but maybe sometimes a thing it's almost, yeah. Whether we really need this as well, but they are all comfort blankets.

What can I do to, as you say, that, is that punctuated different parts of the day or signaling different chapters would have been something that happened quite regularly when we were out and about a lot more. And now we're home a lot more the need to do that is perhaps enhanced. Oh, definitely.

But I think it's really interesting because I think talking to two friends as well, most people were still change for dinner. Not so much anymore, but in the middle of lockdown, the idea of physically getting dressed, putting makeup on and then sitting and eating dinner. And I think that celebration is really, it's really beautiful because even if there's no one there to see you, but the idea of honoring it and that there's always a beauty when people, I'm always fascinated when I see people walk by themselves into restaurant and just have the most intelligent view all by themselves, not a phone inside, they're not doing this.

It's like the idea of virtue signaling a status, just purely for themselves. They're playing towards. Yeah, like being at the best restaurant, just having a cup of tea. And I love that celebration and honoring it for yourself or buying flowers for oneself, or, if you have a cup of tea and just being at the most peace book, tea service, it's about the haptics and the textures of just yet just honoring yourself and elevating the everyday to something much more special.

It's really. Can you write a book about that? Cause I will buy it for sure.

We're going to bring the good service off, but I'm not using it every day because what'd you actually saying that I'm not good enough. I'm not good enough to use my best because I'm just waiting for, and I know where that comes from. It's generous towards guests, but would you actually just saying it's not good for me?

So I think that's a real beauty about it, but yeah, I love that. I love that reframe. Caroline, thank you so much. And it's always a pleasure for us to get together and listeners, thank you for, of course taking the time to enjoy the show and if you've enjoyed it, please, write a little note to share with us.

Cause we do love to hear your feedback and that inspires us for future shows. And , once again, I'm your 📍 host, Sura Al-Naimi