Mindful User Experiences: The Ethical Future for Persuasive Technologies
Technology is currently designed with very limited ethical standards, leading to the creation of experiences that distract and addict. This is the result of a carefully-crafted system that is set up for monetary value — the more attention the user dedicates to the experience, the better it is for the business. As a result, user experience (UX) designers quantify user engagement by measuring screen time, clicks, and shares, keeping users hooked to their screens, treating attention as a commodity. UX designers create features that ping the user to interact, pressures the user to respond immediately, and provide endless new content for entertainment. Technology, as a result, is currently manipulating the thoughts and actions of millions of people, resulting in the frazzled and mindless consumption of information. What would our digital world look like if it had an ethical standard to protect user attention?
To answer this question, I culminated this research with a design prototype, illustrating what could be possible if design decisions were made with ethics in mind. This research considered the ethics of technological design patterns that seek to persuade a user in exchange for business-driven engagement metrics. It involved thorough user research to understand how technology currently interrupts, persuades, and hooks a user into addictive behaviors. Ultimately, I conceptualized and tested a smartphone design that puts the user's best interests at heart. This prototype was presented to users for their feedback, which I then incorporated into further design revisions. I created this prototype to help restless users disengage to process their own thoughts and emotions. A smartphone that can detect a user's degree of mental fatigue and suggest calming activities is the first and best defense for addiction. Secondly, I also considered how smartphones could help a distracted user find focus to allow for quality output and satisfaction. Behavior-aware delivery of information, such as when a user is in a focused mindset, ensures that users are less distracted and more focused on their own thoughts. These are just a few of the concepts I attempted to put into an interface and engage for discussion.
Design iterations of these prototypes were based on several rounds of user feedback. I crafted an unmoderated user testing study on the UserTesting.com platform and gathered reactions from twenty users who reside within the United States. To target users who are most familiar with a technology-dependent lifestyle, I narrowed the recruitment to range in age from 18 to 41, capturing Millennials (who, according to Beresford Research, currently range in age from 26 to 41) and mature Gen Z users (who currently range in age from 10 to 25). The final recruited sample had a median age of 31 and was 55% female, 45% male. I also purposefully did not target any specific occupations or level of education to provide for a wide range of perspectives. These tests were released at various times of day to optimize for the most variability in mental states and working conditions.
In the user testing session, users were asked to interact with prototypes and speak their thoughts out loud for around 20 minutes while their screens and audio were recorded. I described the premise of the application and allowed them to click through a series of prototypes, one at a time. For each prototype, I invited participants to share their reactions regarding the usefulness, value, and visual appeal. Having the opportunity to test a prototype with real users provided valuable feedback for a stronger subsequent design.
I conclude that an ethical technology redesign should successfully prioritize mindful moments. Technology should put the user in control, enabling them to experience technology's full potential. Without a change in ethical design practices, the attention economy will likely continue to utilize user engagement as the best metric for creating habit-forming and distracting products, and technology will not be respectful or thoughtful for the user, resulting in a frazzled, addicted, and distracted society. If user intention is optimized, however, users will be able to experience novel thoughts and solve difficult problems. In this technology-focused modern age, adopting a mindful relationship to life and work is not something people can easily do on their own. Therefore, mindfulness and technology must not be at odds with one another. If technology stops maximizing engagement through screen time, clicks, and retention, the humans who use this technology will have the necessary agency to use these powerful tools in a way that optimally benefits their mental health. It is necessary, therefore, to design ethically without limiting the capabilities of the technology itself or requiring extensive effort by the user.
I believe that UX designers, including myself, have a fiduciary duty to create digital experiences according to an ethical standard. This standard would aim to amplify human capabilities and protect them from attention commoditization. Designing for intention, rather than attention, protects the mental health of our population. Removing the attention economy and designing for mindfulness instead allows for a balance of being always-on and unplugging; a balance that most users are unable to find for themselves in this current state. Creating a personalized, contextual, and dynamic technology system that prioritizes the mental health of its user will enable the smartphone to continue to be an essential part of daily life while also making space for mindful moments of rest and quality work.
Perceptions of the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare communication in a nationally representative cross-sectional survey of family caregivers
The grant supported a nationally-representative survey of family caregivers, and we were able to have a whole section on the COVID-19 pandemic.
An Introductory Bioethics Podcast for Students at the Geisel School of Medicine and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice
There is currently no introductory bioethics podcast available that is targeted to medical and health students. Micro-learning, through the form of a podcast, is becoming more widely used. In particular, podcasts allow students to listen to multiple points of view, follow along with the progression of a thought framework, and avoid reading more content on top of their schoolwork.
We hope to develop a health care ethics podcast meant to increase students' awareness about cases they may face within careers in the healthcare field. Allowing students to develop a framework that can be practiced and applied to real cases is crucial for enabling them to be prepared to face such challenges after graduation.
With each podcast episode, we hope to discuss case-based, practical, ethical issues through an analytical thought process. Through rigorous research and the involvement of expert ethicists, the podcast will cover both novel and classical ethics issues pertinent to health and wellbeing, encouraging listeners to understand that ethical deliberations underlie many of our daily decision-making. Listeners will then be equipped with the framework to address ethical issues in the healthcare field in an equitable fashion. Overall, this podcast seeks to fulfill the aim of the Ethics Institute as an innovative, accessible media: to foster the study and teaching of ethics.
National Survey of Caregivers
This research project was conducted by a PhD student at the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health at Dartmouth College. The research analyzed the effects of recording technology on patients with neurodegenerative disease and how recording technology can be used as an aid for caregivers. Data was gathered on the unmet critical need to understand how caregivers interact with communication technology, their views on recording, and how caregivers might use technology to improve their ability to communicate and effectively prepare to meet the needs of patients.
Ethical Implications of Media Influence on Altering US Public Opinion
Undergrad student research on how media coverage of the recent demonstrations and violence perpetrated by both the protesters and the pro-China police in Hong Kong affects U.S. public opinion about China and foreign policy preferences towards both China and Hong Kong. Experiment, to be fielded in the U.S., respondents are randomly exposed to either neutral, pro-China, or pro-Hong Kong news about the ongoing demonstrations, and then asked questions about their attitudes and preferences for subsequent U.S. foreign policies.
The State of Social and Political Expression on College Campuses
"What explains variation in student willingness and truthfulness when discussing social and political topics on campus?" Research to determine if a large percentage of undergraduate students across the political spectrum are muting at least some of their beliefs on social or political issues and the reasons behind self-censorship. Some potential reasons include preventing others from being offended, nipping emotionally-exhausting conversations on sensitive issues, being uncomfortable sharing partially-developed thoughts on polarizing topics, or being unwilling to speak on issues in which one lacks personal experience.
Leading Lives and the Normative Significance of Narratives
There exists an intuitive connection between living and narrating—when we try to convey to others an understanding of ourselves, we do so by telling the story of our life. An important question ensuing this intuition, then, is whether this connection bears any normative significance upon us—whether narrative concerns matter to our decision-making and actions at all; to what extent can the question of what we should do be reduced to what promotes the narrative coherence of our life story. Some philosophers, like Galen Strawson and Bernard Williams, contended that narratives are without normative importance to us. For the majority of decisions in life, for instance, it is not the case that we consult our life stories up until then and infer what we should do in light of what ought to be done to promote a coherent life story. Rather, actions are often immediate responses to particular circumstances. The relevant considerations concern more immediate projects and ends, and the input/role of large-scale narrative considerations is obscure if not nonexistent. On the other hand, there are philosophers, including Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor, who argued that we act precisely by pursuing and enacting coherence in the story we are leading. Narrative interests would therefore be decisive in guiding our actions. Indeed, when it comes to important decisions in life, such as career, marriage, and parenthood, the question in the end is always how the decision would impact and/or shed light on the story that our life would amount to (whether, for example, as the result of our choices, our life would become a story of redemption and improvement).
How can we adjudicate between these two positions? Both intuitions seem real and important, and a satisfying account would need to incorporate both. In my project, I want to evaluate two proposals (one coming from each position) that have great promises in addressing this concern. Holding on to Strawson and Williams's position, the first proposal argues that the fact that we tend to refer back to our life stories at certain moments of decision needs not imply that life narrative is somehow indispensable to making decisions and taking actions. Rather, this may be explained in terms of social conventions: we are prescribed the norm of taking narrative considerations into view when it comes to certain moments of decisions, but it is still an open question whether it is inconceivable for us to decide and act in those moments without taking an interest in our life narratives. Another proposal, defending MacIntyre and Taylor's position, argues that the fact that we do not appeal to narrative concerns in each and every action is not sufficient to show that life narratives are irrelevant to ordinary decision making. Indeed, narrative considerations may play a reactive role insofar as it sets the boundaries for actions. It may delineate possible actions that would be considered out of bound in light of their disruption of our narrative coherence. Akin to laws or commandments, the demands of narrative coherence may not legislate positive content for what we ought to do from moment to moment. Nevertheless, it supervises and shapes all actions as it determines what ought not to be done. That narrative considerations do not surface in day-to-day actions would only mean that ordinarily our intentional activities do not threaten our narrative coherence.
I seek to take an interdisciplinary approach to evaluating the two proposals. Because this is mainly a question in contemporary philosophy of action and ethics, I will further delve into important discussions raised by David Velleman (in his book Self to Self as well as in his articles Narrative Explanations, The Self as Narrator, among others). I will also consider relevant chapters in Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue and Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self. Beyond (just) philosophy, I want to explore the intersection between philosophy and literary theory, where much theoretical work on narratives in literature has been done. This would encompass Paul Ricoeur's Time and Narrative, Walter Benjamin's Illuminations, and Aristotle's Poetics. Lastly, incorporating the empirical perspective, I seek to include readings in contemporary developmental psychology (works on autobiographical selfhood by Qi Wang) and conduct case studies on the nature of life stories (drawing from the life story database of NPR'S Story Corps). I intend to conduct all of the above through self-initiated reading clubs so that reading and thinking about narratives will not be an impersonal research project but a personal, reflective, and interactive experience.