Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Face-to-Face Social Interaction

Mobile devices allow us to connect with the rest of the world, regardless of where we are. People can now be reached anywhere. If something goes wrong at my kids’ school, for example, a teacher can let me know immediately, even if I’m in the middle of a meeting. People can also access information from anywhere. Before ordering dinner at a new restaurant, I can look the most popular dishes up on Yelp right from the table.

Ironically, however, while mobile devices connect us with the greater world, they often disengage us with what is directly around us. I know I have been guilty of pushing my children away while I catch up on one last email that could have easily waited. Mobile devices are so disruptive that we create rules to regulate their use (“No phones at the dinner table!”) and make up games to keep us away from our phones.

But really we should embrace the fact that we now have computers with us everywhere, rather than fight it. Just like it is silly to try to stop people from wearing tracks through grass by building fences instead of paths, it is silly to try to keep mobile devices out of our social spaces.

People are carving out their own paths with mobile devices everywhere. Much of my research focuses on search, so that’s where I see it the most. When you listen to the voice queries people issue to Bing, you can hear evidence of social device use in the background. A voice query for “Applebee’s,” for example, sometimes includes a secondary voice saying, “Let me do that, you’re driving!” And when studying how people conduct mobile queries, we find that 2 out of every 3 searches from mobile phones are discussed with other people.

Currently there is no good technology-based support for co-located, synchronous communication. But by reframing our personal devices as social devices, our mobile phones could be designed to enhance our face-to-face communication instead of distracting from it.

Personal devices:
  • Remove us from our social context
  • Isolate us from companions
  • Encourage rude, inattentive behavior
  • Distract attention
  • Promote apathetic, passive experience
  • Foster culture of "absent presence"

Social devices:
  • Engage us with those around us
  • Connect us with our companions
  • Help us participate more fully in conversations
  • Focus attention
  • Promote dynamic, interactive experiences
  • Foster fully present collaborations

Related papers:
J. Teevan, M.R. Morris and S. Azenkot. Using Physical Signaling to Support Collaborative Mobile Search. CSCW 2014.

M. Böhmer, T.S. Saponas and J. Teevan. Smartphone Use Does Not Have to Be Rude: Making Phones a Collaborative Presence in Meetings. MobileHCI 2013.

J. Teevan, D.J. Liebling, A. Paradiso, C. Garcia Jurado Suarez, C. von Veh and D. Gehring. Displaying Mobile Feedback during a Presentation. MobileHCI 2012.

J. Teevan. Using Mobile Phones to Augment Face-to-Face Social Interaction. Talk at MISC, 2012.

J. Teevan, A. Karlson, S. Amini, A.J. Bernheim Brush and J. Krumm. Understanding the Importance of Location, Time, and People in Mobile Local Search Behavior. Mobile HCI 2011.

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