Beyond the Screen: Creating Unconventional Artifacts to Support Long-Distance Relationships

Beyond the Screen: Creating Unconventional Artifacts to Support Long-Distance Relationships

Hong Li (University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/IJMHCI.2019100103
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Long-distance romantic relationships have become prevalent in today's globalized world. Although mainstream communication technologies have provided instant, cheap, and convenient channels for people to communicate at a distance, the emphasis of these technologies is placed on functionality as they are designed for a large variety of end users, rather than providing emotional communication which the author argues is meaningful and necessary for the individuals to maintain ties to their romantic partners who are forced to live physically apart for some reason. The author envisions that there is a gap between understanding the users' needs in research and designing technologies for them in practice. The author's PhD research has been dedicated to bridging this gap by mediating emotional communication for serious long-distance romantic relationships through unconventional artefacts. This manuscript presents an overview of the work thus far.
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Long-distance relationships (LDRs) are becoming more common than ever before, and the number of LDRs continues to increase as an enormous number of individuals live apart from their loved ones due to educational demands, career pursuits, military duty, emigration and such circumstances (Aylor, 2003; Stafford, 2004). These reasons for separation have formed three main types of LDRs, i.e. long-distance friendships, long-distance family relationships, and long-distance romantic relationships which can be further categorized as casually dating, seriously dating, engagement or married. Despite that the phenomenon of LDRs has become prevalent, the discourse of LDRs remains relatively understudied compared to the research around geographically close relationships. One of the reasons is believed to be that frequent face-to-face communication, geographic proximity and shared meanings are assumed to be relational necessities while LDRs challenge those traditional and cultural assumptions (Stafford, 2004). There is no doubt that LDRs come with inevitable challenges posed by geographic proximity. However, Jiang and Hancock (2013) argue that LDRs can equal or even exceed the relationship satisfaction and trust that occur in geographically close relationships.

Nowadays, there are various communication channels available for people to interact with their loved one at a distance, such as phone call, video chat, texting, instant messaging, e-mail, and social networking. The majority of people who are in LDRs relying on those low cost and ubiquity of computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools to fulfill relatedness – i.e. love, closeness, intimacy, belonging and togetherness – one of the fundamental psychological needs for human well-being (Alderfer, 1972; Andersen, Chen, & Carter, 2000; Deci & Ryan 2008). However, it has been found out that most available technologies focus on the transmission of explicit information, which neglects the emotional and subtle communication needed for close relationships (Hassenzahl Heidecker, Eckoldt, Diefenbach, & Hillmann, 2012).

Having acknowledged this gap, there has been a growing interest in developing different types of solutions aimed at mediating emotional communication for LDRs in the field of HCI. The use of wearable technologies (Tsetserukou & Neviarouskaya, 2010), ambient media (Kim, Park, & Nam, 2015), biosignals (Werner, Wettach, & Hornecker, 2008), haptic sensations (Singhal, Neustaedter, Antle, & Matkin, 2017), hybrid interactions (Kowalski, Loehmann, & Hausen, 2013), etc. are widely employed to create a relatedness experience for LDRs. Nevertheless, the focus has been put on technology-based experience to mimic the ability to see, listen to, smell and touch each other at a distance, which might make the users feel overloaded by technologies, as lifeless machines and standardized tools may fail to build an emotional connection needed in LDR context (Li, 2018). As a result, there appears to be a gap between understanding the users’ needs in research and designing technologies for them in practice. To address this gap, this research has been dedicated to applying design thinking to investigate how intensive technologies can be redesigned and humanized to mediate emotional communication for remote couples. The focus is on couples who are in serious LDRs, i.e. engaged couples, married couples, or couples who have established a committed romantic relationship for a substantial amount of time, as opposed to casually dating.

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