Earlier this year I finished the MSc (with Distinction in Human-Computer Interaction with Ergonomics at UCL I’ve previously written about on this blog.
Below is the introduction to my dissertation. The full dissertation (pdf) is available from the UCL Interaction Centre website.
Connectedness, the subjective experience of interpersonal closeness (Lee & Robbins, 2000), is a fundamental need for human well-being (Smith & Mackie, 2007; Townsend & McWhirter, 2005 1. The need can be especially salient in relation to partners and close family members (Lindley, 2011; Neustaedter, Harrison & Sellen, 2013). Since connectedness is closely related to physical presence (Dey & De Guzman, 2006; Rettie, 2003), maintaining it over geographical distance can be a challenge. In an exploratory study of communication patterns of close family members living apart, we found indications of connectedness dipping between regular communications, resulting in feelings of anxiety and loss (Stawarz et al., 2012).
The Information Age and ubiquitous computing has brought a host of supplementary technologies to support interpersonal communication over distance. Voice calls, video calls, email, SMS, instant messaging, social network sites, and smart phone games offer a range of possibilities for staying in touch with our loved ones. Yet it seems they don’t meet our need for connectedness.
Kuwabara et al. (2002) offer a possible explanation for this. They argue that current communication technologies are content-oriented, focused on precisely transmitting explicit content. However, in co-located relationships, implicit mood and presence cues help evoke and sustain a sense of connectedness (Kuwabara et al., 2002).
Studies exploring communication of mood cues (e.g. Boehner et al., 2007; Fagerberg, Ståhl & Höök, 2004) offer interesting possibilities for rich connectedness-oriented communication. However, indications suggest a simple representation of a loved one’s presence can in some instances be enough to create a sense of connectedness. In an ethnographic study of instant messaging use, Nardi, Whittaker, and Bradner (2000, p. 79) found participants occasionally monitored the contact list for online presence to “maintain a sense of connection”.
This study explores the experience of connectedness felt by individuals geographically separated from their partner, when adding automatically communicated remote presence information to an existing communication pattern.
We take a design-oriented research approach (Fallman, 2003), and explore the phenomenon through a dyadic remote presence indicator prototype – a tangible version of the online presence icon known from instant messaging systems – linking two physical locations. In particular, we seek to understand what qualities of the prototype support an evocation of connectedness.
The aim of the study is to generate insights, which can be used generatively when using the design strategy of remote presence awareness to design connectedness-oriented technology.