Disclaimer: Regrettably, I was not able to carry-out the level of research I had initially set out to accomplish. The realities of my current position as an English teacher left me little time to put together the number of interviews needed to fulfill this assignment. Quite honestly, I was also preoccupied with the festivities of “Seollal” or Korean New year and my adventure to Seoul aboard the highly prestige KTX. What follows is the results of my singular interview with a fellow teacher, some of my own observations and my design idea for the App project.

 

The domain of interest I have chosen is that of people’s interactions with their environment. As technology, the internet and its subsequent information have been increasingly pervading our lives, it isn’t hard to notice the immense impact it has created in our lives both negative and positive. My goal was to set out and explore the different ways in which people interact with their environment and how primarily their Smartphones and any other type of device may serve to encourage and/or impede said interaction. I began my investigation with the hypothesis that our Smartphones may, and most certainly do, serve to aid and distract us from the very things we find engaging. The mission of my work here has been inspired by the countless observations I’ve encountered where it is grossly evident that Smartphones have arguably done more to take us away from our (immediate) environment than they have to deepen our connections with it. In the following paragraphs, I will elucidate the methods in which I carried out my brief study, the few results I obtained via an interview and several accounts of my own observations and lastly, the design idea I came up with to work on for the remaining of the semester.

To begin, the methods I used were diary logging (although inconclusive), interviewing and observations. I carried out the interview using a recording device found on my Smartphone. The ease of use of this app made the interview go very smoothly. Even whilst aboard the KTX, the quality of the sound was impeccable even given the number of loud noises that surrounded us and our low voices. I first inquired about their general means of interaction with their environment. I prodded for them to give details about the kinds of adventures they preferred and what they found interesting in their environments. I asked if they preferred social or solitary interactions in their environment (or both) and reasons behind their answers and why they thought they preferred one or the other. I then asked for them to give specific examples of when their phone helped them engage in their environment and subsequently how does it impede engagement in their environment. I also inquired about their use of maps and GPS-type apps to navigate. I asked how it affected their abilities to navigate without one and how maps have changed their general means of travelling. I then asked how they used their phone to learn more about their environment. Lastly, I asked for them to try and remember the last time they went an extended period of time without their phone and how did this affect their interaction with their environment. This led to a follow-up question on “Phantom Vibration Syndrome” and their experience with this. I was ultimately curious about how our phones have changed and thus reformed our experience and interactions with the people and things around us. By the end of the interview, I asked for them to keep a diary log on their positive and negative experiences perpetrated by their phone that had an impact on their environment by way of sending me a message of the when, where and how.

To follow, I will talk about the ways in which my participant has found his Smartphone essential to his interaction with his environment including my own observations of such. He spoke about the ways in which his phone allows him to communicate with family back home and organizing different events within his environment. He said that he would not be as communicative with his friends and family were it not for his phone. He also spoke about the conveniences of the ability of getting info on a variety of different things. Specifically, he likes to go hiking and he can look up how high he will have to climb the mountain (how far he will have to go) to reach the top. This information will allow him to make certain impressions on whether or not he would be able to finish the climb or if he might have to quit early. Even if he was physically capable of completing the climb (or at least his perceived physical capability). His experience can be explained by emergence of the Internet and subsequent spawn of the Information Age in which we live where any type of information is at the tip of our fingers whenever we want it. Information about nearly any person, place or thing is available to us upon request. This allows us to asses more situations in our environment with more knowledge and more confidence. I have also observed on subways, busses and many public arenas where people’s attention is fully absorbed by their phones. From what I have seen, they’re engaged in either 1 of 3 things: texting, reading or playing a game. My participant commented on the latter one saying, “it’s a conversation topic.” Apart from being mildly entertaining and a convenient time-suck to get you from point X to point Z without having to experience the drag of travelling on public transportation, these popular games serve as a means to converse with new acquaintances similar to the way sports or the weather have served such a purpose. He also mentioned that he is able to connect with his students over the games that he plays on his phone. While this may serve as a positive effect of phones on our environment, in the next section, there is evidence that the contrary may be more convincing.

Upon interviewing my only participant, he almost immediately started off with this quote talking about his phone, “It sucks all my attention away.”  It is true that smartphones with the ability to connect to social media online have done amazing things to connect us with our friends and family no matter where any of us are. But time and time again I am observing the various ways in which people are absorbed into the virtual reality of their phones and having all of their attention sucked away. It may connect us more to environments where our loved ones are but it does this at the expense of our current environments. My participant spoke about his tendency to frequently get lost while his attention is engaged with his phone rather than where he is going and what’s going on around him. This is also supported by the many observations I have had with people walking and texting or generally on their phone, clearly unaware of their environment past the three-foot perimeter that has become their orb of awareness. While my participant spoke about the benefits his smartphone gives him in relation to not getting lost, he also had this to say, “Those single-player type games can make me get lost easier. They’re big attention sinks. I can lose my sense of direction.” So he can get lost playing a game, but then find where he is again by using maps on his phone. Sounds like maybe a bit of fun and overall not very invasive until it interferes with him being somewhere on time.

Furthermore, I had a personal experience in college which I think is relevant to my mini-study. Freshman year, my friends and I got together for a “Burrito day” once a week at Zoca Mexican Grille as a means of interacting in the week when we were busy with classes. We enjoyed the occasion (and the burritos) so much that we decided to make a tradition of it. Every year that followed we maintained our “Burrito Day”. With the emergence of Smartphones, suddenly it was clear that nearly everyone owned one. It was easy to tell since what I described earlier of people walking and texting was a lot more prevalent. Also, people were on their phones a lot more in general since they were able to connect with the internet and social media much easier. This phenomenon found its way into our sacred “Burrito Day” and stole the Zing out of it. The meal would begin in a similar fashion, laughing and joking while eating our tasty, filling burritos. But then, sure enough, one person would bring out their Smartphone, then another, then another, and before you know it everyone is sitting around the table looking at their Smartphone not talking to each other… except for me. The once vibrant conversation of friends laughing and having a good time in their environment was suddenly taken over by the invasion of a seductive device that forever resides in our left-hand pockets.

I believe Smartphones have the potential to be amazing products and have already proven to be so. With the millions of apps that are now available, the possibilities are endless with what we are able to do with our phones that we can literally take everywhere with us (even in water in some cases!). As with any great product, there is the potential of misuse and abuse. Through my brief study and my many observations it is clear that Smartphones have made a significant impact on us and the way in which we interact with our environments. They have changed the way we experiences these interactions and even the way we seek out interactions. Since games have proven to be a popular way people have chosen to interact with their phones and inadvertently are one of the biggest ways they are distracted from interactions in their immediate environment, I was inspired to create an app that would be a game aimed at taking people off of their phones and back to their immediate surroundings. It would be an exploratory game that would encourage people to explore more of the areas that surround them by using the maps and location finding tools on their phones. So they would need their phones to play and could even compete with friends and people online for being the best explorer, but the phone could safely be stowed away in its home in that left pocket. By hopefully encouraging people to put away their phones and become more adventurous, playing this game would bring us back to our explorative nature and closer to our immediate surroundings and the here and now.