Manfred Tscheligi, Wolfgang Reitberger
The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to solve societal problems goes back to the pioneers of HCI. In his groundbreaking 1962 article “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework,” Douglas Engelbart states that his reason for bootstrapping human intelligence is the growing complexity and urgency of the problems that society faces on an increasingly global level . More than a decade later, Ted Nelson points out the potential of computer screens to make people happier and smarter and help them deal with their problems .
For some time after Nelson, the HCI community focused mainly on usability issues affecting individuals or groups of users working on PCs in office environments. The bigger societal questions that guided Engelbart’s research moved into the background, while issues like efficiency and ease of use moved to the center of attention.
Things have started to change again as the PC loses its dominant position and ubiquitous and mobile technologies lead to a diffusion of ICTs to new groups of users and contexts. The computer escaped from the office into the wild and people started using computers in their home environments, in public spaces, and in other nontraditional settings. This creates a shift of interest in the HCI community, moving from the rather narrow notion of usability to the almost all-encompassing concept of user experience.
This diffusion of everyday life with ICTs spurs a renewed and growing interest in how these technologies can be used to address the complex and urgent societal problems that humankind is facing. One of the promising recent approaches to increase human well-being and to solve these societal problems is persuasive technologies. Persuasive technologies are an emerging field in HCI . They facilitate persuasive interaction that leads to a voluntary change of behavior or attitude or both . Persuasive technologies have great beneficial potential for application areas like human health and well-being, education, or environmental conservation.
Fogg defines persuasive technology as “any interactive computing system designed to change people’s attitudes or behaviors” . Ubiquitous interfaces, which make up a particular class of interactive systems, have the capability to unobtrusively surround the user at any given moment and place. This enables a persuasive intervention at just the right time. This opportune moment is also referred to as kairos .
Fogg discusses several strategies for persuasive technologies , of which social acceptance, connectivity or facilitation is the most powerful persuasion strategy . Other persuasive strategies are persistence and simplicity. Persistence means that the system confronts the user with the persuasive message at several occasions whenever an opportune moment arises. Simplicity means that the interactive system makes it easy for the user to understand the persuasive cue and to perform the desired action .
Societal interfaces, we propose, are advanced interaction approaches that are explicitly designed to solve or improve specific societal problems, utilizing HCI to create a more socially and ecologically sustainable society and to support quality of life. Societal interfaces address issues like health, well-being, or (environmental) sustainability. Societal problems arise in different contexts and areas.
In the context of the environment, societal interfaces address the relationship between human and nature. Issues in this area include global warming, sustainable mobility, and energy consumption. Societal interfaces directed at health and well-being focus on the relationship between human and his body/mind. Examples for specific problems in this context include smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, and other health conditions.
In the tradition of its pioneers, such as Nelson and Engelbart, the CHI community has started to address societal issues more in recent years in several ways. As an example, the CHI Student Design Competition 2007 focused on the design of a societal interface for environmental sustainability that encourages the use of public transit. In 2006 the competition centered on the personal monitoring of diet, exercise, and health, and in 2005 the aim was to increase the social well-being of the elderly.
The conference on persuasive technology, which took place in 2006 and 2007, also focuses on research that addresses societal problems with persuasive technologies.
Persuasive technologies provide a powerful framework for the field of HCI to address societal issues in all areas. Due to the widespread use of ICTs and the exponential growth of the usage of ICTs (e.g., mobile devices), there is great potential to reach a large enough user base through societal interfaces to have a significant impact.
Below are some examples of Societal Interface that utilize persuasion in some form.
Environmental Sustainability. Societal interfaces have employed persuasion successfully in order to change people’s behaviors regarding environmental sustainability. Many of these interfaces aim to alter a user’s behavior by making them aware of the effect their everyday actions have on the environment. They include a power cord, which shows the electricity that flows through it , persuasive appliances with integrated energy feedback , and a mobile application showing users the impact their mobility behavior has on pollution [8, 9].
One problem with persuasive societal interfaces for the environment is that they do not address an issue about which most people are intrinsically motivated. Thus, the interfaces can be improved by offering the user an individual benefit on top of saving the planet. In the case of the interface for sustainable mobility, users also get timetable information and the opportunity to buy a bus ticket from their mobile phone. Another strategy to motivate users is to introduce an element of social connectivity. For example, this can be allowing the users to compare their efforts to conserve energy with their peers’ as a competitive and game-like feature.
A future societal interface in this area could show the users their entire CO2 footprint, i.e. their contribution to global warming, with ambient technology. This footprint is generated in real time based on the users’ everyday actions. Additionally, the system could learn from the users’ behavior and offer alternatives that demand less CO2. Through connecting the users of this application with some of their peers (friends, family members), an element of social facilitation can be introduced. This could further increase the persuasive potential of this societal interface.
Health and Well-being. Societal interfaces that aim to improve health and well-being have the advantage that people are often already motivated to lead healthier lives. To improve health is a major challenge in today’s society. People just need some support in order to make the first step toward a behavioral change or to follow through with a healthier lifestyle for an extended period of time. This is where societal interfaces can be successful. One category of these interfaces aims to make users exercise more. Often, they use a feedback mechanism to show the user the effect of her behavior. Examples include the Polar fitness watches or the Nike + iPod Sport Kit.
Another category of these interfaces aims to help the user to quit smoking. Important elements for the success of these interfaces are timely intervention in the withdrawal process and the use of other medical and therapeutic modalities.
A related topic recently in the center of media attention is binge drinking among teenagers. Societal interfaces could be employed to provide information to the users about attractive and constructive alternatives to binge drinking. These messages should be tailored to the specific users in order to improve their chance for success. The use of mobile and ubiquitous interfaces can make the message persistent and also connect users to other users who do not engage in binge drinking, leveraging the persuasive principle of normative influence.
The continuous growth of the aging population creates another increasing societal demand for technologies and applications that foster healthy aging and allow the elderly to maintain an independent lifestyle. In the context of aging, societal interfaces can address medical and health issues as well as issues of social inclusion and connectivity of elderly users, which all have an impact on the overall well-being of this group. Societal interfaces can support the elderly in maintaining healthy lifestyles or in modifying unhealthy behaviors. Drawing from the field of persuasive technologies, such interfaces can be used to provide real-time feedback to elderly users and persuade them to change unhealthy attitudes or behaviors by making them aware of the consequences of unhealthy decisions. Applications include intelligent pillboxes that remind the users to take their medication in order to increase compliance with their treatment plan and health monitoring systems that give condition-specific feedback and advice to users.
Whereas current interfaces in this area usually focus only on specific aspects of human health and well-being, future societal interfaces could be based on gathering a wide range of user data in ambient environments. Based on this data, the system can find the potentially most successful approaches to improve the health of a specific user and tailor a persuasive strategy to help the user reach his individual health goals.
4. Gustafsson, A. and M. Gyllenswärd. “The power-aware cord: energy awareness through ambient information display.” In CHI ‘05 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Portland, OR April 2005). CHI ‘05. New York: ACM Press, 1423-1426.
6. Mccalley, L.T., F.G. Kaiser, C.J.H. Midden, M. Keser, and M. Teunissen. “Persuasive appliances: Goal priming and behavioral response to product-integrated energy feedback.” In Persuasive 2006 Proceedings Berlin, Germany: Springer
University of Salzburg
University of Salzburg
About the authors
Manfred Tscheligi is professor of HCI and usability at the Institute for Advanced Studies and Research in Information and Communication Technologies and Society, University of Salzburg, Austria. His research interests are usability and user experience methodologies, innovative interaction environments, and contextual interfaces. He is also founder and director of CURE-Center for Usability Research and Engineering and the founder and managing director of USECON, a usability and user experience consultancy firm, both located in Vienna, Austria.
Wolfgang Reitberger is a researcher in the Human-Computer Interaction & Usability Unit of the ICT&S Center at the University of Salzburg. His research focuses on ambient intelligence (AmI), persuasive technologies and user experience, and he is author of several related publications. He earned an M.S. from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where his studies were supported by a Fulbright scholarship. He is currently working towards his Ph.D. on user experience in persuasive AmI environments.
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