Antisocial Networking?

Stout, H. (2010). “Antisocial Networking?” New York Times Online. Retrieved on 3 October, 2010:

The main topic of this article is that technology may be changing the very nature of kid’s friendships. Children used to actually talk to their friends. But now, even chatting on cellphones or via e-mail is becoming rare. Today’s teenagers and preteens, prefer to make friends and communicate using cellphone texts and instant messages, or through the very public forum of Facebook walls and MySpace bulletins. People now are more likely to use their cellphones to text friends than to call them.

The article shows two opposite points of view on the topic.

The author believes the quality of human interactions is becoming worse without the intimacy and emotional component of regular face-to-face communications (hence the title of this article).

The ease of electronic communication may be making teens less interested in face-to-face communication with their friends, but close childhood friendships help kids build trust in people outside their families, develop empathy, understand emotional nuances and read social cues like facial expressions and body language, and consequently help lay the groundwork for healthy adult relationships.

On the other hand, online social networking allows children to become more connected and supportive of their friends. The impersonal nature of texting and online communication may make it easier for shy kids to connect with others. And for some children, technology is merely a facilitator for an active social life.

Conceptual Design:

The article focuses on the failure to communicate emotional context of the message. So in relation to conceptual design, we have to worry that the emotional tone of the content is not coming across from one user to the next. This means we have to build-in some support structures that help communicate additional information. For example, emoticons are used in email to help provide context for the content—a happy face changes the emotional tone of the message, making it lighter. In newspapers, you can often see photos of reporters next to their stories. This gives the reader a bit of context (as if they were watching it on TV). A face plus the articles gives a different emotional outcome then an article without the face.

As we build, we can start thinking about the different ways we can insert the emotional tone into the design.

Interaction Design:

We need to create ways of surrounding the product with emotional cues; it will make it easy and desirable for the users. We can build a product that can be easily personalized to each user. Personalization will make interaction with a product more efficient. Fine tuning will help to create a unique product for each user. A person will become more affected to it and might spread the word about this product to his friends, so even more people will want to have this product. We could also make interaction with a product fun. We can achieve this by using different colors or by adding funny elements to the user interface, like pictures.

Interface Design:

Interface design is about the look and feel of the product. Here’s where the emotional design comes in. If we need to increase the rate of transmission of emotion, then we can do so with interface design. This again to reporters’ photos in the articles they write.

There are many ways we can personalize our product. For example, a product might have a set of switchable skins, a user can select a skin he/she likes or even create his/her own skin. A product can come in many different colors or use different color themes in case of computer software. Some companies allow their customers to engrave their name on the product they order via the Internet, so the customer received already personalized product. Another popular way to add emotional cues is by using avatars, a computer user’s representation of himself/herself or alter ego. The “look and feel” of user’s avatar communicates the emotional tone: fun, serious, sexy, professional, etc.