GRADUATE THESIS PROJECT
Matter: A Mindful Action Loop
Matter is a graduate thesis project that explores the use of classical conditioning and journaling to promote mindful actions and counteract the Eliza Effect - a phenomenon due to which people tend to perceive computer behaviours as analogous to human behaiours.
Graduate Director, VCD
Senior Lecturer, VCD
People now believe that computer behaviours are analogous to human behaviours. This phenomenon, now known as the Eliza Effect has lead to an increasing change in our understanding of social norms/cues, love, friendship and altruism.
The 'Eliza' Effect
Eliza Effect refers to the phenomenon of unconsciously assuming that computer behaviours are analogous to human behaviours or the susceptibility of people to read far more understanding than is warranted into strings of symbols—especially words—strung together by a line of code. It was named after 'Eliza' the first chatbot ever designed by Joseph Weizenbaum
In recent years, with the increasing use of smart devices, there has been a shift in human social behaviour. Our devices have altered the way we perceive social cues without us even noticing
With devices being introduced into the lives of individuals as early as the age of 2, the amount of power it has to change our perceptions has sky-rocketed.
Smart speaker ownership rose up by 40% in 2018 to 66.4 million in the US and with new products entering the market every year, the number of people with smart devices in their homes is only increasing.
In 2020, average screen times for most individuals shot up by huge margins, due to the pandemic and it’s likely that this effect will continue for many more months to come.
Since these devices are relatively new, we are still in the beginning stages of behavioural evolution. Any change made now will have a larger impact.
This behavioural technique is more commonly known as Pavlovian conditioning, named after the Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov.
By providing a neutral stimulus to perform an action, over time that action becomes a habit.
The ‘Guiding Light’ - a smart light that collects your screen time and device usage data, will provide a visual cue by turning red to prompt you to take a break from your devices and interact with your journal or your physical environment. This visual cue will act as a neutral stimulus and over time, you will automatically take breaks from your devices and participate in your journaling, without the need for a cue from the light.
Journals have long been used as a way to remember and reflect upon our lives in a tangible way. Narrowing down the content of a journal to simple mindful actions can help establish a habit among users.
Reinforced behaviours create the path to forming habits.
The prompts within the journal act as a secondary mechanism of habit creation.
In this example, the user is encouraged to interact with their physical environment
(which acts as a neutral stimulus) by using all five of their senses. This interaction is recorded within the journal and provides a positive mechanism to stabilize difficult emotions.
Over time, the user wouldn’t need this page anymore and will be able to refocus from their difficult emotions by interacting with their physical environment.
In order to help users make sense of their actions and understand how they work, a glossary card will be provided. This page will explain every type of prompt in the journal and how it works.
Providing this context to users will make them more likely to want to continue using the journal and make them more observant to changes.
• The Eliza Effect has ramifications on large age groups and progressively increases with age. The beauty of a journal is that anyone who can read and write will be able to use it.
• While this includes young children, who may not fully understand the significance of journaling, it’ll develop good habits in them at a young age.
• Adults can understand the significance and use the journal/light as a way to keep themselves accountable
This also makes for a good family activity - do it with your kids and lead by example. Your kids will develop a stronger bond with you in the process.
Binder Style Journal: to allow users to select what kind of content they want in their journal and to give them the ability to add more pages as and when needed.
Minimal Design: to let users be able to personalize their journals to their style and liking and removing the burden of finding something that fits their aesthetic.
Variety: to provide a range of formats that allow users to express themselves via writing, illustrations, collage work, etc.
The Eliza Effect isn’t just limited to smart devices like virtual assistants and chatbots. We have been subliminally conversing with inanimate things since as early as the 1960s. At the rate with which technology is improving in today’s world, the ramifications of this effect will be passed on for generations to come.
The good thing is that if we make a conscious effort, we can control the extent of change in our behaviors. Moreover, organizations like All Tech Is Human, Americans For Responsible Tech, and International Campaign For Responsible Technology are initiating important conversations about making the future of tech ethical, responsible and safe for all humans.