This is an ongoing research project, in collaboration with psychologists Dr. Andrea Horn and Dr. Annika Martin from the University of Zurich, Dr. Christian Remy from Aarhus University in Denmark, and Kamil Barbarski (entrepreneur, innovation trainer, co-founder of MAK3it, and organizer of the Humane Tech Rheinland Meetup) in Cologne, Germany. Below is a chronological record of our progress with this project. More to come!
Human beings are hard-wired for connection and belonging . Yet, research shows that people are feeling more lonely than ever before, with higher negative impacts on our health than obesity and smoking . The design of social media (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat) is one contributing factor, engaging us in constant comparison with others’ “picture-perfect” lives, and leading us to feel even more isolated and alone in our daily challenges . Research shows that “we’d rather text, than talk” – relying more on technology and less on each other . As a result, “we are alone, together” .
There are many possibilities to address this problem. We are currently exploring the embedding of interactive technologies in public spaces (e.g. train stations, parks) to prompt spontaneous and meaningful connections between strangers. The idea is to unite people who typically may not have much contact with each other by highlighting our “common humanity” (how all human beings struggle with the same things), rather than our superficial differences.
As urban artist Candy Chang once said : “In our society, when we feel fear, anxiety or confusion, we often do our best to hide it from others. But what if we could make more safe places to share? There’s great power in knowing you’re not alone.”
 Brown, Brene. 2015. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
 Chang, Candy. 2015. Transforming our cities through art and design. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfKPgn4v6Ws&t=5s
 Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015 – Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors.
 Jensen, Sarah. 2018. Social media usage: The Impact on Feelings of Depression or Loneliness.
 Neff, Kristin. 2003. Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself
 Turkle, Sherry. 2012. Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other.
**The photos above are from Unsplash: Jacob Ufkes, Ryan Plomp, Hugh Han.
Humane Tech Meetup: June 2018
Thank you to everyone for a fantastic meetup! We hope you had fun, learned something, met interesting people, and got inspired by this question of “How can we design interactive technologies to connect strangers in public spaces?”
Thank you again to Wertheim Cologne for hosting us!