How the Digital Fabric Affects Our Behavior
How the Digital Fabric Affects Our Behavior by Livia Veneziano, Happy Fun Corp / April 15, 2014.
We are all aware of our interactions with devices, whether our phones, computers, cars or TVs. We build a relationship of reliance and expectation with each piece of technology and look to it to respond to us in kind, yielding convenience and knowledge right at our fingertips and voices. The way we interact socially is changing, and the level at which these digital elements are becoming a part of our every moment – between people and between the cities we live in – is not just a matter of the access and transfer of information. As services become woven into the fabric of the every day, we see drastic behavioral changes.
Opportunities for digitally augmented services are everywhere, and we can’t build or update them fast enough. When designing in response to shifts in user behavior, we need to be aware of the intersection between old and new. But designing interactions for behavioral change is an incremental process, and the path to success isn’t always clear or quantifiable. Creating experiences that go beyond utility and intentionally touch on the core of human need – from the individual, to the global context – is a venture into the unknown.
Everyday tasks have been made easier and even entirely possible by our digital connectivity. From never needing to remember another phone number to instantly sharing our thoughts with millions, we welcome intervention to our daily routines. But these interventions are not always seamless, and our adaptation to mobile brings to light some interesting physical and digital intersections. Understanding the analog environment and re-imagining how digital services interface with it, is an exercise in bridging the gap between intuitive behavior and disruptive technologies.
Let’s consider the car. Driving is a physical process between an individual and a machine – a carefully choreographed combination of movements that begins with the frantic search for keys. For those who are frequent drivers, the dance is routine and comes as second nature. As cell phones, and then smartphones, became ubiquitous and access to remote means of communication and social engagement more readily available, a problem occurred; two sets of choreography collided, both competing for attention. One, a gripping social compulsion. The other, a series of focused reactions.
Without a natural way for the two to unite, we have cobbled together quick-fixes to our multitasking problem. Hands-free commands, dashboard phone-mounts, and even automatic replies to messages while driving all point to a new kind of problem; we can control the car as an extension of our physical selves, and we can communicate as an extension of our emotional selves, but we cannot balance two extensions as they currently exist at the same time.
As we invent interactions to accommodate for these new kinds of constraints, problems multiply and the vision becomes blurry. What was the problem, exactly? Oh right, to make socializing while driving easier.
But wait – that doesn’t sound right…
Solving for the wrong problem is easy to do.
Defining the right goals isn’t always easy. Solving for a collision of interactions is much simpler but results in a solution that confuses ease with purpose. The extent that digital channels become a seamless intermediary of our relationships in the real world is in our hands, not just as an adaptation to our behavior, but as a whole new set of substantive interactions that rely heavily on capturing and communicating a frame of mind through a digital channel.
The problem of using the phone while driving has an obvious solution (don’t do it) but time after time we find ourselves splitting our attention in the name of productivity. In creating new features and functionality to our digital interactions, we move forward with a manifesto of bringing ease to this chaotic mash-up.
The easier it is to multitask, the more we can do, and consequently, the faster our environments change. As designers and digital marketers, the goal is often to foster environments where exchanging information is easy and enticing, creating services that shift the way we communicate over digital channels toward a more natural cadence. But doing so can come at the expense of intentionality – in design and consequently in the user – in the everyday connections we make.
Designing with empathy sets the stage for le coup de foudre.
The digital fabric we interact with is shifting from being a layer we intersect with at specific points to a fully integrated part of our relationships. As our awareness of ourselves takes shape in the digital world, it’s important to question how that integration affects our connection with friends, communities and the world of connected people. Becoming aware of the scale at which these invisible forces and interfaces affect community and organizational behavior forces design practice to break away from the screen and shape experiences outside platform constraints.
Design as a practice is a balance between a utility and emotional connectivity. We want people to love what we make, and help them complete tasks, or achieve personal goals. When goals are defined in these terms, the idea of providing ease by bridging between conflicting experiences is put aside, setting the stage to solve problems around human needs, and above all, an emotional connection with the experience. Whether it’s visualizing progress towards financing a house, or sending a virtual touch through a haptic interface, designing with empathy sets the stage for seamless, natural and engaging experiences.