Recently I found myself interested in the space that our text conversations live in. I found myself thinking about the words I wrote and how they inhabited the space of a text messaging system.
My thoughts always live on the right of the space with one (typically branded) color. While the person who's talking to me words always live on the far left in another contrasting color. And there is predetermined amount of white space between us.
There is really no environment to support the weight of our complex thoughts.
What if we thought of the text space like a physical space?
As it is now, the text environment feels like a storage unit, a place to for this to be kept. I wondered how could the text space could feel more like a home, place that was comfortable. A place that could be adjusted based on the needs of what we wanted to express.
design process assumptions
Texting has asynchronous quality-- we are able to do tasks and send messages without ever skipping a beat. This is a powerful feature and I knew I wanted to experiment around this.
Texting has lets us conceal. It is the reason we are able to have some of the most vulnerable conversations over text, because we do not have to show our face going red or our voice shaking. I knew in my experiments, I do not want to take control away from the individual.
Since we have to see our words before we send them, we are hyper aware of the record we are forming. As a result, words in the text space will never have the care-free organic quality conversations that conversations in the physical space do.
So, how do we modify an environment in physical conversations?
We modify spaces in to two ways: positioning and time
first experimental concept
When in a physical space, where we stand a room with the person we are communicating matters. Psychology researchers have found that it shows how connected we are or hints at our emotions. So does even how we stand-- if we keep our arms tight to our bodies or stand tall. These are affordances that we gain by modifying a space and we utilize when communicating our thoughts
I was curious about what if text space felt carried this essence?
So I imagined a version of text messaging system in which users could treat their message bubbles like stickers. This allows individuals to decide where they should place their message and the size/shape it should take on
I provided people the prototype of this concept. I then asked them to have a scripted text conversation with me using these affordances. I would take on person A and they would be person B. We then acted this script out over text, placing the bubbles were felt right/ embodied what they were thinking
Below, on the left here is one script that I gave to people and how it would normally look in the text message design. I want to show you an example of how the same conversation changes once the new affordances were added.
metrics of success
Of course, this variety is beautiful but I was curious if positioning was completely random/up to each person or if there was something meaningful about placing a bubble in a certain way.
What I found was there were clear patterns. Here are two examples.
In the one on the left, everyone chose to make the words "Hate it" really large.
In the one on the right, was a conversation in which the character was having a hard time with depression. Everyone displayed this kind of curvature in their positioning. The message “how u” being the closest to the center with the following pulling away. What was so interesting that it is clear that when visualize our thoughts, there a lot more nuance in our emotions.
second experimental concept!! :)
The other successful experimentation was the one that played with time.
In physical spaces, we can leverage time and use it in our conversations. For instance, if I were to say, “I hate you” quickly, verus “I hate you” with a “I hate you” slowed down with a pause. There is a difference. That capturing of time is valuable and an amazing affordance to have.
However, in text the message just appears static and “perfect”. We do not know if someone would have paused while saying that thought or hesitate. I wondered how can I capture this essence in the text space?
So I imagined an alternative in which the amount of time it takes for a message to be put together is the amount of time it takes to be read by the receiver. Essentially, if you are taking longer than normal to type a message together, it will take that increased amount of time to appear. To ensure that this would be keep people in control, this would be a setting users could turn on and off based on the contact.
This is an example of a prototype that displayed an argument using this affordance.
testing and metrics!
I was showed people the prototypes. I was curious if adding time to the space was meaningful. I felt that if it was meaningful, people would have strong emotional reactions.
What I found and loved was that the prototype DID stir people up. Some people were furious describing it might feel like someone was torturing them by writing slowly. Others were introspective wondering about the power dynamics that would be revealed that were once hidden.
How do these possible futures inform the current?
Our thoughts move.
Our thought shrink.
Our thoughts are slow.
The way we think is clearly a complex process. As seen in my project, there is so much nuance in our thought. Some of our thoughts are large. While other thoughts are slow.
Yet, currently, our technologies don't accept nuance and in turn, us.
As it now, the only way we can modify text spaces is through emojis and Bitmojis. They ask us to try to take our complicated thoughts and fit them into comically colored circular faces. Yet, this is clearly not how we feel our thoughts.
I hope that this project inspires us to review what technology should be and how we should be seen in it.
Should technology work to allow us express every detail of ourselves? Or should we keep technology at arms length, and only input specific partial aspects of ourselves? Regardless, our nuance is what makes us, us. It is important to make decisions about the relationship we want technology as we enter a more technology influenced world.
Thank you for reading this project and thank you to everyone that helped me make it!
My parents, Mitchell Gaiser, Gayatri Ketavarapu, Mimi Onuoha, Allison Parish,
My Capstone Class, Arnab Chaky, Lydia Jessup. Yeseul Song, Yash Gurditta. Ruchi Panot, Simran Phadnis, Ari Melenciano, Katherine Dillon, Su Kim, Shawn Van Every