How might we persuade people to engage in meaningful social interaction, without the screen/mobile device/webcam in a period of social isolation?  

Team 9: Elena Deng, Alice Fang, Sophia Fan

Introduction/Problem Space:

These past weeks (quickly passing into months) have been a strange and difficult window of time, as we’ve isolated ourselves in the face of stress/grief/anxiety. The lack of personal interaction and human touch are coupled with increased time spent in front of screens—screen time spent on remote learning, on social calls, on reading the news, and then trying to distract ourselves again. 

We were interested in trying to bridge the sudden disconnect from a lot of our relationships and wanted to find ways to cultivate and sustain positive social relationships while in self-isolation. Through this project, we were also interested in examining who we actually stay connected to when we don’t meet in person on a daily/weekly basis, and what methods help boost positivity. 

Intervention Description:

Our intervention is a shared journal, that we facetiously titled ‘For when you miss your friends.’ Inspired in part by care packages, pen pal letters, and more physical forms of contact (in an ironically ‘technologically regressive’ way, one could argue), and in part by activities that could be completed by multiple people (puzzles, coloring books, etc.), we hoped to spark a small bit of joy by passing this journal through our social circles.

“This journal is meant to encourage social connectivity and meaningful interaction at a time when it’s harder to see each other. This journal is for when you miss your friends. So fill up a page and send it off to someone you miss.”

Strategies + Tactics

  • Emotional Appeal: embrace the corniness and hopefully bring a smile! This is an emotional time for a lot of people, so we wanted to channel that into positive feelings. By creating more personal, customizable prompts, we hope to persuade our peers into responding to, reflecting on, and sharing these moments. 
  • Bandwagon→ community appeal: We asked every participant to include their name and then ‘forward’ to the next person that they wanted to participate in.  Being ‘personally’ called out or acknowledged by a friend serves as a more direct call to action, as anonymity can often lead to passivity (ie, the shroud of a Zoom call with both microphone and camera turned off).
  • We also wanted to evoke a similar response to those incited by chain mails and Instagram tagging, where momentum is created when content is passed along between users. There is encouragement within a community to ‘pass the baton’, which in this case takes place within an already supportive environment of peers. 

Impact of the interventions

Originally, we were considering using USPS to mail back and forth something similar, but were limited by time/scale (and not all of us had stamps :’-( a true tragedy). However, a good number of our class is still in Pittsburgh, so for the sake of this prototype, we were able to transfer the journal between a group of our classmates and found some benefits to “physical” handoff—

  • Handing it off requires ‘contact’ of some sort, aka a chance to see people’s faces
  • The act of delivery also requires a break from digital interfaces
  • However, this meant that Elena had to act as a middleman between each ‘transaction’, and so the journal did not truly transfer from person to person w/o intervention

Results of intervention: what did people fill in the journal with, and what did we observe/how did they react? + other insights? How much time did each person spend?

  • Something else we observed is how a few of the contributors referenced previous contributor’s pages and added to their own. It almost became an additive process as more people referenced what other contributors did and added onto their own pages.
  • A lot of contributors filled the journal by just looking at what others had done, and most of the entries chose to do prompts 1 and 2. 
  • Elements of persuasion that were more effective and apparent through observation were
    • The Bandwagon effect–apparent through the referencing of previous entries and looking through who else had contributed to the journal added to the desire to want to make a good series of pages. 
    • Emotional Appeal: We observed that upon receival of the journal, a lot of recipients were excited to see that the previous contributor thought about them. Because of the linearity of the transfer process, each contributor only selected one next contributor and so those who received the journal felt appreciated. 

What we wish we could do in a more ideal situation: 

  • We would’ve liked to gain more concrete feedback from users on the process! This could help us establish some benchmarks to determine how persuasive our intervention actually was, and whether it achieved our goals or not. 
  • This brief iteration of our journal was successfully shared via interpersonal handoffs. In our next steps,  we want to try the mail situation. If we had a longer time period and were more prepared in terms of material, even just within ourselves, it could be interesting (+fun) to mail some stuff like coloring books back and forth and see what we come up with. 
  • This journal was lo-fi by necessity. Without access to the resources we normally have at CMU, we had to use whatever we had on hand at home. It would’ve been interesting to explore layout and type to create a more consistent printed artifact.