A smart add-on for existing wristwear that builds interpersonal relations while regulating problematic screen use.
10 weeks, Winter 2019
The project was completed as a part of Microsoft Design Expo 2019’s theme of Empathy at Scale. The team was mentored by Axel Roesler and Nathan Auer.
Setting up the problem space
We started by whiteboarding ideas about empathy and what it meant for us. We also looked at possible problem spaces that exhibit empathy gaps. We chose to focus on interpersonal empathy, a space that our team, collectively was interested in.
The technology-empathy relation
Based on our knowledge and observation of social media’s evolution over the last decade, we suspected that technology and interpersonal empathy are interlinked. We started digging deeper…
Studies show that use of smartphones affects our abilities to read emotions and build strong relationships. Use of phone leads to decreased sensitivity to emotional cues. Also, relationships built through mediated communication reduces face-to-face interaction necessary to strengthen the interpersonal bond.
Studies showed physical damage to brain areas, one area, in particular, the ‘insular lobe’ is involved in developing empathy and compassion. In additional to physical change, there are chemical changes in the brain as well. Internet addiction leads to urges similar to drug cravings due to the release of dopamine. Excessive use of social media also leads to people being unhappy.
89% of people used their phone during the most recent social gathering interacting with devices over people based on a Pew research article. As per IDC research, 80% of us check our phone before brushing our teeth, 79% of us have the phone nearby for all but 2 hours of the day and 26% are online constantly.
We quickly realized that most age groups spend a lot of time in front of screens especially through the use of social media and consumption of video content. Over the long run, this problematic use of screens will severely affect the current as well as future generations if not acted upon and finely balanced with a healthy amount of social interactions.
Reducing problematic screen time and encouraging real-life human interaction is critical to developing interpersonal empathy and improving emotional wellbeing
Is technology all bad?
Seeing the severe effects of technology on our wellbeing and empathy, and through feedback of our advisors, we started thinking about how technology could be used to address an issue it created it created in the first place.
Through further secondary and primary research, we became interested in using Affective Computing, an AI system to understand multimodal information streams and emotional states, as an assistive tool in developing interpersonal empathy.
Regulating problematic screen use
Our first goal was to help users regulate problematic screen use - excessive consumption of social media and video content. Unlike the wellbeing initiatives from Google and Apple, we wanted our product to be contextually aware of the user’s behavior and have flexible limits. Essential functions such as calling, messaging, navigating, etc. wouldn’t be affected by these limits.
To effectively impose these flexible limits, the AI algorithm would have to be contextually aware of how the user uses their phone, what content they consume and what social situations they are in. As phones don’t have all the sensors need for an affective computing system to work properly, it meant creating a physical form that could be carried everywhere.
Through a quick poll and some secondary research, we concluded that creating a standalone, carry-everywhere device that whose only function is regulating screens wouldn’t be desirable. We chose to go with the ‘wristband’ form with further iterations. The wearable would be an add-on that would attach to any existing wristwear and connect to the phone over bluetooth.
Encouraging social interactions
For the second goal, using affective computing to detect speech, conversations and location type would help the system indicate to the user to pay attention to the conversation at hand and play down the unnecessary use of screens.
Connecting socially with others is as basic as our need for food, water, and shelter. We wanted to incentivize this social connection as engaged users will double down on regulating their phone use. To incentivize these real-life conversations we ideated traditional as well as novel interactions that two or more individual users could participate in.
Our Proposal - Loop
Loop is a smart add-on for wristwears that creates personalized screen time limits.
It understands phone use behavior, monitors biometric signals and phone sensor data to identify context and set daily screen limits.
It never restricts any essential phone functions.
Loop rewards improved behavior by discounting social events.
It allows you to create goals together as a group and completing these goals let’s your group go to social events like concerts and trips, yay!
How does Loop work? (in the works)
Loop divides screen use in to three modes - Green, Yellow and Red
Drains and charges normally
Drains and charges more quickly
Time has run out
Restricted to essential apps only
Lasts only a few minutes
What makes Loop different? (in the works)
Google’s Digital Wellbeing and Apple’s Screentime are two of the most popular screen time limiting approaches present today. But they are lacking in multiple ways as mentioned below
On/off vs. contextually aware: The limits imposed are binary and do not consider context in while imposing these limits.
Manual vs. auto setup: Limits have to be manually set for each apps which could result is tedious and monotonous process.
Rigid time limits vs. Variable time limits: Time limits are fixed and restrict access to apps for rest of the day.
Fixed vs. Adaptive limits: The limits don’t change along with the user change in behavior and lifestyle.
Focus on individual vs. social life: Loop values time differently in social context.
Ease vs. difficulty of override: Limits are easy to override