Force Therapy for Withdrawal
An Order From the Queen
For Mobile Internet Addicts
Technology addiction is a serious issue even in Chinese first tier cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, which share very similar city attributes in being ‘technology embedded’, ‘media rich environments’ and ‘market driven’. To deconstruct this phenomenon, I will first look at the historical, humanistic and urban context.
The evolution of time impacts significantly on the characteristics of citizens. In the late 70s, the Communist Party of China made a strategic decision in the 11th Central Committee and implemented the reform and opening up of the nation. This national policy reversed the isolation situation experienced by China since 1949 and allowed the state to enter a period of rapid economic development beginning in the early 80s. At the same time, Deng XiaoPing put forward a revolutionary theory of a socialist market economy as China was in a state of transition from a planned economy to a socialist market economy. Citizens during this period experienced price reform, necessities shortages and inflation. As a result, the Chinese 80s generation, to a large extent, are insecure, feel uncertain about the future and are anxious about the state of the nation.
Until the 1990s, Chinese economic development had achieved a soft landing and the majority of society supported the vision of a xiaokang society, one in which the citizens are moderately well off and middle class. This economic prosperity was successful in allowing most of the population in mainland China to live comfortable lifestyles; however, economic advancement was not the sole focus of this newly-rich society. In fact, cultural consumption began to thrive at this time as ‘idealism’, ‘self-expression’ and ‘freedom’ became the keywords of the 90s generation.
Dr. Victor Yue Yuan, a sociologist in Peking University and chairman of the Horizon Research Consultancy Group in China, discussed the characteristics of the 80s and 90s generations from this modern Chinese context based on years of research and statistics. In his book Who Said the 80/90s are Not Reliable? He points out that the 80s and 90s generations are so different from other generations. In effect, they are both the happiest and the most afflicted generations; they are also the most special generations and represent the future of China (Yue, Y. 2011). They have extensive psychological needs but are unable to achieve self-actualisation (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 2013)(Figure 01) . They also have growth needs (Alderfer’s ERG Theory, Redmond, 2010, P.6)(Figure 02) in terms of their social motivation. According to an article in New Weekly published in 2009, the reality in today’s Chinese society is being referred to as an upstream-blocked society as citizens are facing rigid social stratification (New weekly, 2009). In a sense, their dreams have been shattered by these political, social and economic impacts. There is a long way to go to achieve a stable olive-shaped society and end the pyramid structure and hardened social stratification crisis. In fact, this would most likely require more than 30 years to achieve (Ifeng, 2010).
On the other hand, China possesses a significantly large territorial area and this has led to an outstanding imbalance of resources. Huge numbers of the external population moved into first tier cities to secure greater opportunities but this has resulted in the rootlessness of both cities and citizens. What’s more, surplus properties and urban complexes dominate the natural environment and have had detrimental impacts on the natural ecosystem. With the advances in modern technology and industrialisation, the 80s/90s residents are living an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle and facing unprecedented pressure. They have gained considerable wealth but they are still not satisfied. According to the latest GNH (Gross National Happiness) report relating to Chinese cities in 2013 (Figure 03), the first tier cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen –all lie below the pass line, Shanghai most notably (Sina, 2013).
Figure 03 Chinese Cities GNH Ranking Table 2013
In an era of technology and entertainment, tiny digital devices appear to be the only items that allow these citizens to release stress when faced with many contemporary issues in their daily lives. However, the force that exists between humans and technology appears to be mutual. In a sense, the more stress people face, the more they prefer to unwind using technology to participate in cyber activities that provide a series of mental rewards that don’t require much effort to achieve (Rosen, L. 2012). In fact, the more they hide behind the screen, the more their needs are exploited by technology. However, their increased psychological needs lead to disappointment in real-life situations. There is no doubt that we all benefit a great deal from innovative technology, however, these devices also reveal some fundamental weaknesses in citizens. Furthermore, it is decimating their comfort zone and is weakening their ability to endure pressure; in essence, technology is gradually turning some citizens into mere slaves of technology.
The affected groups, including zhainan, zhainv, and ditou zu (known as phubber), represent the Chinese subcultures brought about by technology addiction. Zhainan and zhainv are those who spend more than 10 hours per day at home using their computers and phubbers are heavy users of smartphones devices. They constantly check their smartphones, on average every 6 minutes, and often ignore their friends and family members in doing so. Both physical and mental withdrawals have led them to become hermits in urban cities. Urban hermits in China, subgroups that belong to the 80s/90s generation that I discussed previously, are typically between 20 and 30 years of age and can be either students or professionals with individual pursuits. The term itself is composed of “Urban”, for the context in which they live, and “Hermit”, for the way they appear absent when using smartphones on the go, for the way they enjoy the virtual world at home and for the symptoms they display that indicate a dependence on technology, including social avoidance, interpersonal and health problems, time management problems etc. (Rosen, L. 2012).
Technology addictions are defined by Mark Griffiths at Nottingham Trent University as nonchemical (behavioural) addictions that involve human-machine interaction. According to Griffiths, these addictions can be passive (e.g. television) or active (e.g. computer games) (Rosen, L. 2012, P.63). Meanwhile, several other psychologists have proposed that the concept is too broad and needs to be refined further. Dr. Kimberly Young, a professor at St. Bonaventure University and author of Tangled in the Web, suggest that addicts become hooked on specific applications (P.63). For example, an online video game, social networking application, internet browser etc. Nowadays, these all compress into miniscule applications and can be installed on your formfitting devices, such as smart phones, pads and even wearable devices.
These apps – social networking apps or game apps – seem to be the perfect magical stress reliever that might however lead to psychological dependence. Social networking, as shown in the model (Figure 01), only requires a few cues and is asynchronous while face-to-face interaction is most synchronous and requires the highest number of cues. According to Rosen, ‘Our reliance on computers and other devices to ‘keep us connected’ may be doing psychological harm if we rely too much on them and not enough on maintaining healthy lifestyles, including face-to-face interactions that give us the needed context and cues that socialise us’ (Rosen, L. 2012, P.172).
Figure 01 Two-Dimensional Model of Communication Modalities
From a social capital perspective, ‘Social networking is about collecting your social capital’ (Rosen, L. 2012, P.37). Martin Gargiulo, an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD and expert on social network analysis, claims that social networks are an asset that helps individuals get things done but they can also represent a liability. Gargiulo cautions against having too wide a network because maintaining these relationships requires time and can distract people from caring for the ones that truly matter. His recommendation is to condense one’s network into a core group of ‘between 20 and 30 … and sometimes even smaller’. These people may change over time (some ties become stronger, some weaker), but there is always a core network that matters, and you need to nurture these ties above all others (Cho, K. 2009). Dave Morin, an American entrepreneur, angel investor and CEO and co-founder of the social network Path, stated that ‘50 is the perfect number of friends’ (Constine, J. 2012). According to Morin, Path is perfect for nurturing these core ties and he also claims that Path’s competitors are not Facebook or Twitter, but email and sms because these people have been opting to share content through older mediums instead of new-fangled tools (Constine, J. 2012). In addition to using email addresses to register for different online resources, those who have each other’s phone numbers are most likely part of the core tie group. Regardless of who the group is composed of, perhaps family members, close friends, old friends or colleagues, the group is likely to evolve over time as mentioned previously. To maintain a balanced lifestyle and connected daily routine, a model has been visualised based on the overlapped views of Martin Gargiulo, Dave Morin and Larry Rosen (Figure 02).
Figure 02 ‘Nurture the Core Ties’ Model
To avoid being over attached to these devices, social networking activities should be moderated and nurturing core ties is a good way to achieve this. The advantage of this approach is that you can prioritise your connections and reduce the burdens significantly whilst maintaining a connection to your core ties. For example, when there are emergencies, your friends and family members can reach you via phone calls or text messages. Similarly, your old friends or colleagues may send you information via email or social networking platform, which can be read later, as they are asynchronous (Figure 01).
Overall, according to the Attention Restoration Theory (ART), the best way to assuage the symptoms brought about by technology addiction is to ‘unplug’ for a while. In other words, get out into nature, spend face-to-face time with others and take a break from technology (Rosen, L. 2012).
According to Sieberg, ‘It’s time to make peace with technology, not war. It’s about moderation, not elimination […] technology should liberate you, not inundate you’ (Sieberg, D. 2011).
The creation of a design with a principle of form-follows-function was first coined by American architect Louis Sullivan in 1896 in the context of industrialisation. However, it is difficult to continually produce works as the products are based upon their intended function or purpose but lack consideration of human emotion within an increasingly humanised context. According to Hartmut Esslinger, ‘form-follows-function’ was a simplistic and misunderstood reduction of Sullivan’s wider description. He believes that ‘function’ is essential, however, humans always strive for a deeper meaning (Design & Emotion, 2014). Therefore, Harmut Esslinger coined ‘form-follows-emotion’. Following this, Donald Norman, a usability specialist and cognitive psychologist, joined the mission of the emotion study and published Emotional Design in 2004. Emotional design mainly applies to industrial design and interaction design.
In this book, Dr. Norman’s studies of emotion suggest that human brains process information on three different levels: ‘the automatic, prewired layer, referred to as the visceral level, the part that contains the brain processes that control everyday behaviour, known as the behavioural level, and the contemplative part of the brain, or the reflective level.’ (Norman, D. 2014, P.21) Correspondingly, according to Donald Norman (2014), these three levels can be mapped in terms of product characteristics as follows:
Visceral design > Appearance
Behavioural design > The pleasure and effectiveness of use
Reflective design > Self-image, personal satisfaction, memories
Visceral design refers to aesthetics, behavioural design is concerned primarily with use and reflective design covers a broad territory, including the culture, the meaning of a product or its use, personal memories or something it evokes, self-image or the message a product sends to others (Norman, D. 2004). Put simply, I would say that emotional design refers to how a product looks, how it works and how it feels.
Philippe Starck’s ‘Juicy Salif’ citrus juicer (Figure 01) is a good example contained in Dr. Norman’s study. As Starck is rumoured to have said, ‘My juicer is not meant to squeeze lemons; it is meant to start conversations’ (Norman, D. 2014, P.114). This juicer was seductive and visceral enough to attract Dr. Norman’s attention. However, on a behavioural level, the product might not work very well because the gold-plated juicer would inevitably be damaged by the acidic fluid. However, an important component of the juicer is the reflective joy of explanation. In essence, it tells a story. Anyone who owns it must show it off, explain it and demonstrate it (Norman, D. 2014). Dr. Norman also proudly displays it in his own entrance hall and his colleagues have conducted analysis for Dr. Norman on why the product is so bizarre yet inexplicably delightful (Norman, D. 2014). They came to the following conclusions:
1. Entices by diverting attention.
2. Delivers surprising novelty.
3. Goes beyond obvious needs and expectations.
4. Creates an instinctive response.
5. Espouses values or connections to personal goals.
6. Promises to fulfil these goals.
7. Leads the casual viewer to discover something deeper about the juicing experience.
8. Fulfils these promises.
The Social Media Guard (Figure 01) is a brand advertisement from Coca-Cola launched in March 2014. The product resembles a dog cone that fits around the user’s neck and obstructs all kind of social media use, thus forcing people to look up and pay attention to their friends and their surroundings so that they nurture their core ties in reality and interact with the real world (Coca-Cola Journey, 2014).
The video documented the dependency of humanity on smartphones and showcases how social media obstructs people living their real lives. Thus, Coca-Cola came up with an amusing solution by inventing a social media guard that distinguishes socialising from media and encourages people to engage in real-life social activity.
Sharing Watch (Figure 01) is designed by a Korean design studio known as Maezm. The product makers claim that the numerical board is turned by 90 degrees so that the product is more useful to both the user and those around them. This minor alteration in design allows the user to interact with those around them within the context of sharing time (Sharing Watch, 2009). In addition, it can be said that ‘Maezm displays the time in such a way that it is read in the same way to you as it can be read by others’ (Design Boom, 2009). On a visceral level, the design itself attracts users’ attention based on the slight change in dial design. Moreover, the behavioural design is also effective as the change to the dial does not affect the readability for the owner of the watch. On a reflective level, ‘the simple act of turning the numeric face 90 degrees reconsiders the ritual behaviour of sharing time’ (Design Boom, 2009). The ritual attached to the watch trigger users’ reflection on the subtle relationship between the individual and others, the humane care and the social need in humanity.
VISCERAL LEVEL – TRANSLATE ‘URBAN HERMIT’ INTO COLOURS
The urban hermit phenomenon is in the technology-mediated context. To connote this context, I selected aquamarine blue and orange as the main colours and applied them to all of my visual outcomes. Aquamarine blue denotes quiet and calm. Many modern technology corporations use this colour as part of their identity. Quiet and calm are closely related to an inner state of individuality which is one of the characteristics of being a hermit. It highlights individuality with a technological tone. Orange relates to social communication and stimulates two way conversations. Orange highlights sociality with a humane tone. Blue and orange are contrasting colours and their connotations critique each other. Putting them together delivers the paradoxical relationship between technology and humans. I used these two colours as the background colours and shift the colour by creating both illustrations and app interface. I have already considered how to use these two colours in multiple platforms including print and digital. The digital platform is considered to be the most important as it is the final outcome. The colour testing between the graphics and the app is vital.
BEHAVIOURAL LEVEL – FUNCTION DEVELOPMENT FROM SOCIAL CAPITAL PERSPECTIVE
The outcome is an application for moderating technology. The features of the app are that you can use call and SMS but not Wi-Fi, cellular data, and other apps. On the behavioural level the function concept was developed from the social capital perspective based on the overlapping views of Martin Gargiulo, Dave Morin, and Larry Rosen in previous chapters. Using this approach will maintain the connection with core ties and help people unplug from the social networking platform and spend quality time with conversational partners (Figure 01).
Figure 01 Function Concept Development
REFLECTIVE LEVEL – RITUAL CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT
Seeking the trigger is the key task of the reflective level. I received inspiration from one of my interviewees’ experiences – the Physical Presence and Mental Absence (one of the illustration of my Urban Hermit work in portfolio page). When drinking beer or wine, people’s conversation sometimes start with a ‘clink.’ Therefore, I transferred the beer to their phones. When they touch each other’s phones the application will activate and obstruct all the distractions from the social networking platforms while allowing you to maintain the connections with your core ties in case there is an emergency. The ritual enhances the experience of the app from personal moderation to co-moderation through real world interaction (Figure 02), as discussed in the case study of Coca-Cola’s social media guard: put the social out of media; the case study of sharing watch: the reconsideration of ritual behaviour; and the case study of Juicer: go beyond the needs and start conversations.
Figure 02 Ritual Concept Developement
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Network is like an endless and uncertain cosmos. An intense but invisible battlefield is going on here.You will be an inventor if you have the foresight, and you might say:”I will win it all in this battlefield.”You may be a publicist if you have the hindsight, however, “There are too much data to tell stories.”Some people are unconscious because of the invisible questions we can not answer. These people are practitioners who aim to find different ways to tell stories.
While my friends were reading Mcluhan’s theory, I was watching the Gangnam style video on youtube. Being a mass medium, it’s fair enough that youtube need a high click rate to survive. However, messages on youtube are so diverse and overwhelming. All the information have already become fragments. People tend to be entertained by videos rather than learning useful knowledges from them. We are utterly being ruined under these junk information.
In this global village, we share junk messages, we chat with Jane Doe and John Doe through cell phone when we are with friends in reality, we check junk mails when we are working… We become the victim of these lifestyle-changing mediums. However, we are happy and keep doing it every day of our lives and we can not deny it.
Medium is message. So viral video is the message of which kind? We should think about it. A saying in “A Historical Approach to the Media” written by Mcluhan says that if we weren’t “to go on being helpless illiterates” in the new world of technology, passive victims as the “media themselves act directly toward shaping our most intimate self-consciousness,” then we had to adopt the attitude of the artist.