A comment on: Understanding Remote Presence
The authors are Scandinavian, and start off with an interesting observation: “When you enter a Scandinavian home in the wintertime you will soon realize the importance of light, and how different lamps are crucial for carrying out work and daily house chores. But the use of light is also essential to show that you are at home and to manifest the presence of life. […] using light […] in some communities […] is a mutual social activity with the neighbors to show that you are doing well and even that you might welcome visits.”
The authors are also interested in the variety of sentimental artifacts in the home, “A key concern for us is to focus not only on the pattern of communication within a co-residential social unit, but also to investigate what people keep in their homes to act as a reminder of people to whom they are close.”
The authors did an ethnographic study where they visited homes and asked about the significance of objects while being given a tour. One of the more interesting findings is that some people have mixed feelings about the phone as an object, because it reminds them of painful conversations with remote loved ones. The authors also asked subjects to enact specific scenarios, such as leaving the house, in order to observe habits such as leaving lights on if the owner were staying in the neighborhood.
From the observations, the authors created several concept devices that combined the qualities of light source, keepsake item, and awareness of presence with a remote loved one. One of these concepts, called the “6th Sense” lamp, was developed into a prototype used in a followup study.
These lamps are made in pairs that are connected via GSM wireless network. When a human is near one lamp, the other lamp brightens, giving each lamp owner a sense of the other owner’s activity around the lamp. There was a 2-week study with 6 families of different kinds. Subjects were prepped with:
– a story of how in the old days in small villages, people could look out their window and see their parents’ homes, and could get a sense of how they were by how the house was lit inside
– a simple ritual once the lamps were installed where each user called the other and turned on the lamps while on the phone
– journals with prepared questions that were kept by the subjects
The authors wereinterested in the subject’s perceived quality of (a) sense of presence, and (b) sense of being under surveillance. One subject (a father whose sons complained that he only called about practical matters) said the sense of presence wasn’t useful because he spoke to his sons so often by phone. And the only subjects who worried about surveillance were parents that didn’t want to intrude on their children.
These studies were very interesting in how they identified the meaningfulness of routine, practical activities like turning on lights, and how we might be able to introduce artifacts that are easily embedded in such activities and which enable even greater, yet subtle, human interactions.