Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Will You Be My Mobile Neighbor?

The Problem

One sociotechnical problem that I see in today’s world is the enormous amount of time wasted while traveling. It is thought of as a common task to get in your car, or a form of public transportation, and just sit for multiple hours. Why do we subject ourselves to this monotonous task and what makes this trip bearable? There are two main variables when talking about the duration of a trip; the distance to travel and the vehicle providing the transportation. When talking about cost efficiency, most people opt for a longer cheaper trip. Since there have not been any major changes to the speed or automation of vehicular travel, people must find entertainment to keep the mind active. Most people enjoy music from mp3 player/radio, movies, audio books, driving games, and conversation with other riders as forms of entertainment while traveling. It is important to note the space where all of these Medias originated… the home. It is not hard to believe that humans would resort to using the same media to entertain themselves in travel as they to do excite themselves when bored at home. I believe that as new forms of entertainment conjure up in the home, they gradually mobilize and make their way into travel. However, it is evident that increasing the Medias brought from our homes to cars also increase distraction levels on the road. Not only are there more devices to distract you on the road over the years, but they also require increasing amounts of attention to use them.

Human Welfare On The Road

A very important value to consider while mobilizing entertainment for travel is human welfare. The value of human welfare should be one of the first values that every designer considers no matter what field they are in. Throughout history it has been proven that human welfare can be at stake even when a design is working acceptably. For example, The Chernobyl disaster, where workers ignored safety functions that seemingly had no short term effect causing a massive nuclear explosion. In The Human Computer Interaction Handbook it describes that not only can a person’s identity be stolen or manipulated, but so can their digital information. Furthermore, there is “Physical welfare, appealing to the wellbeing of individuals’ biological selves, which is harmed by injury, sickness, and death.” There is also, “Material welfare appealing to physical objects that humans value and human economic interests” (Andrew Sears & Julie A. Jacko, 2008). In terms of travel entertainment, physical welfare is what most products are designed for. There is a fine line between distraction and entertainment while driving. In most cases distraction and entertainment can cause negative physical welfare together. It is important to find a proper ratio of entertainment to distraction.

Solving Negative Welfare

Why not get rid of all entertainment in the car that can cause distraction, this should get rid of negative physical welfare while traveling right? Well, if the mind is not entertained in some way, it will want to go into standby mode (or sleep). Therefore, a lack of entertainment could also have the same negative effects on physical welfare as distraction can. Consequentially, devices are designed to be hands free, voice activated and automatic while they provide service to the user. For example, GPS, mp3 players, and cell phones all feature some kind of audio or wireless feature that decreases interaction with the device providing an increase in human welfare. In contrast, there are also many products that are not specifically design for travel, yet daily accident reports reveal their use. For example, fast food, some mp3 players, and cosmetic appliances are technologies that are taken out of their intended environment into mobile one. This causes negative human welfare. A good theory would be that, if designing in a travel environment, you want to create a product that the consumer give the least amount of attention to and gets the most entertainment value. When the user is less distracted they pay more attention to the complex environment of driving and yield higher human welfare for direct and indirect stakeholders.

When Social Networking Strikes

Social networking is a media that can have positive and negative effects on physical welfare while driving. Social networking is a widely used media that has equally as good a chance to evolve from the home to travel. In a paper by Nicole B. Ellison, Charles Steinfeld, and Cliff Lampe they reference the definition of social capitol as, “the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition". The students also reference studies that prove “Social capital has been linked to a variety of positive social outcomes, such as better public health, lower crime rates, and more efficient financial markets” (Nicole B. Ellison, Charles Steinfeld, Cliff Lampe, 2007). Social capitol has the power to increase human welfare for direct and indirect stakeholders by keeping the driver entertained and by creating community bonding. Equivalent to cell phones, it also has a great ability to distract the driver and cause negative welfare.

Variable Stakeholders

On the road it seems like everyone is a direct stakeholder for some kind of technology. The issues then become: Was the product entertaining to much causing distraction? Was the product not entertaining enough causing boredom? Was the product not design for the complex environment of driving? A direct stakeholder in the use of cell phones while driving would obviously be a driver talking on their cell phone. The driver is creating positive human welfare for themselves by being entertained, but negative welfare for the indirect stakeholder that the cell phoned driver will crash into by getting distracted. The entertainment to distraction ratio is solved by the indirect stakeholder, in this case being the company creating Bluetooth headsets. The company gains material welfare (money) for every increase of physical welfare (not being distracted, hospitalized, or arrested) that the direct stakeholder receives. Social networking in the car has similar prospects to cell phones in terms of distraction and it product of negative welfare. However, it has a much bigger potential to yield positive welfare for indirect stakeholders through social capitol. People being able to communicate with multiple sources of information at once could decrease accidents, increase awareness, and create an entertaining environment. If there was a way to apply the hands free idea to a social networking system (maybe some kind of voice activation), then I think that social networking could increase direct and indirect stakeholder’s welfare, and make a new safe culture of driving.

Works Cited
Andrew Sears & Julie A. Jacko. (2008). The Human–Computer Interaction Handbook. New York: Lawrance Erlbaum Associates.
Nicole B. Ellison, Charles Steinfeld, Cliff Lampe. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook "Friends:" Social Capital and College Students' Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.
Rogers, M. (2007). How social can we get? What evolutionary psychology says about social networking. MSNBC ,

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