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The Smile Mirror for cancer patients is getting a ton of blowback online

smile mirror
Image used with permission by copyright holder
File this one under, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

A new invention by a Brooklyn-based product and experience designer with good intentions is drawing online fury, most fiercely by the very people the invention was meant to help. Berk Ilhan is the creator behind the “Smile Mirror,” a new gadget intended to lift the spirits of cancer patients. As advertised, the mirror will reveal a patient’s reflection, but only if they smile.

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While attending the School of Visual Arts in New York, Ilhan developed a year-long thesis project called Uplift, which involved conceptualizing a portfolio of products designed to improve the quality of life of cancer patients, emotionally and socially. In addition to the mirror, Ilhan also conceived a newspaper that only delivers the good and happy news.

The electronic mirror is outfitted with a built-in camera and an opaque surface that is triggered by facial recognition software. The patent-pending invention intended to gift patients a smile will soon launch a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. Right now, the unit costs between $2,000 and $3,000, but Ilhan would like to see a final price closer to $500.

Ilhan, originally from Turkey, spent time at cancer hospitals in there speaking with patients, doctors and caregivers. The final device was inspired by Ilhan’s encounter with a cancer survivor. His ultimate goal is to donate Smile Mirrors to hospitals.

“She told me in the first days after her diagnosis, it was difficult for her to look in the mirror and acknowledge she had cancer,” he told CNN Tech. “Our facial expressions affect how we feel. If we flex our facial muscles to smile, our brains think that something good happened and as a result, happiness.”

The reaction to the breaking story has not been hospitable, despite Ilhan’s good intentions. At IFLScience, we find the headline, “This mirror for cancer patients only works when you smile, and everyone thinks it’s a terrible idea.” Bustle calls it,”An incredibly misguided idea.” The New Stateman‘s headline reads: “The mirror that forces cancer patients to smile is borderline dystopian.”

At Slate, cancer survivor and technology writer Jacob Brogan gets to the heart of the matter.

“This is, again, not a device designed with the interests of patients in mind,” he writes. “To the contrary, it asks them to ignore — perhaps even to reject — the small sanctuary of what they feel within. Cancer is already alienating, and this is alienation of another sort. Etymologically, the word patient derives from a Latinate root meaning suffering. Those who love us can attempt to ameliorate our pain, but they should never expect us to live without it. If you would like to see us smile, tell us a joke. Surely you know the ones we like. We will laugh if we are ready to, but our smiles are not yours to claim.”

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