Friday, May 28, 2010

One method for compassion development that parallels traditional techniques

Response and Addendum to Intimate Media and Ambient Intelligence

One method for compassion development that parallels traditional techniques:

After a participant is exposed to an initial stimulus of a picture of a “loved one” or their closest associate (mother, best friend, etc.), they are then asked to perpetuate the feeling of compassion (at the same intensity/valence) while viewing pictures of friends, strangers, and “enemies”.

In order for this system to have the greatest efficacy, the pictures must be drawn from the participant’s life. The creation of an interface that leverages readily available intimate digital media, such as pictures stored online, combined with categorization methods, such as tagging and grouping, is the first step.

Research Set-up:

Setting: Initial studies are to be performed in a lab setting, with the ultimate goal being integration into the home environment through a computer interface or digital photo frames.


Participants are asked to go through their photostream, tagging each photo containing a person with the level of compassion they feel towards that person. In order to avoid complex interference, only those pictures with one person should be used. Level One would represent those closest to the participant (center point in the diagram, see diagram). Level Two represents friends. Level Three are strangers (which are pulled from random pictures, not from the participant’s photostream). Level Four are “enemies”, those people to whom the participant shows an aversion.
The tags will allow the application to show the participant Level One pictures first. It is important to have the participant reflect on the feelings that are aroused by the picture, specifically that of compassion.
After a preset period of time, the Level Two pictures will be shown and the participants will be asked to perpetuate that initial level of compassion to these pictures, as well as they can. In order to most closely parallel traditional techniques, the first sessions should only include Level One and Two pictures.
Once the intensity of compassion for Level Two draws near that of Level One, then Level Three pictures should be introduced and so on to Level Four.


Self-reporting measures will be used to track the participants’ progress, as pictures change in level of compassion felt. A more rigid study can be performed using fMRI readings to quantify the change in neural activity of those regions of the brain associated with compassion.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Findings On Finding Flow

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life

When high skill and ability meet challenge it creates space for mental growth. Csikszentmihalyi writes that this is exactly where “flow” experiences happen. Autotelic is another way of describing these experiences, which means self-satisfying, something you engage in for its own sake. Key to this is focus and motivation, namely doing tasks that are consuming and progress your ability. This places us in “flow” and pushes along a progressive learning path where we increase complexity and order.

Csikszentmihalyi also states, “Persons whose lives are autotelic help to reduce entropy in the consciousness of those who come in contact with them.” Interactions with others become more simple, less congested, when you’re in a flow-state. It becomes a matter of developing a playful seriousness about your goals and life. He states, "Thus each of us is responsible for one particular point in space and time in which our body and mind forms a link within the total network of existence."

One of the big ideas that I particularly enjoyed from the book that the author shares comes from Buddhist philosophy - “Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pink’s Drive on Motivation and Its Implications for Interactive Media

Pink’s Drive on Motivation and Its Implications for Interactive Media

Until quite recently, I always assumed that people would naturally wish to engage with an interactive art piece. Plonk them in front of some exhibit and they are bound to let their childlike curiosity take over and lead them through a wonderful experience. Right? Not always. Even when faced with something as provoking as a massive fire-breathing sculpture, quite a few people pass over the chance to press the button and make the world a little more brightly lit, if only for a short period of time.

The question becomes one of engagement and motivation. Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us approaches these topics from a business perspective, but his revelations also touch on other aspects of human interaction. He differentiates between two categories of behavior: Type X, dependent on extrinsic motivation, and Type I, dependent on intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the if you do this, then you get this type. Intrinsic, on the other hand, relies on “the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself.” Remember when you were a kid and you finished a puzzle, just because. And how that felt was...? Cool, aka inherently satisfying.

You can’t make someone engage with an artwork through an external reward system. The desire for engagement must be drawn out from intrinsic qualities and the key to the development of an optimal experience through intrinsic quality is flow. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi worked towards developing a conceptual framework for this facet of experience. Pink says, “Most important, in flow, the relationship between what a person has to do and what he could do was perfect...That balance produced a degree of focus and satisfaction that easily surpassed other, more quotidian, experiences. In flow, people lived to deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self melted away.”

The implications for flow in interactive media are complex when taking meaning, context, and interaction design into consideration, but some tenets drawn from Pink’s work can provide a basis for further conversation. He describes three elements for optimizing one’s work life: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Translating this into the realm of interactive digital media requires a certain flexibility of thought.

Autonomy relates the amount of control the participant has within the system. Having a definite order to the interactions delimits the potential of a piece to an experience akin to turning pages in a digital book. However, the very nature of an interactive digital experience as a piece of engineering as well as art places real limitations on the design.

Mastery means being able to improve. In the case of interaction, this could mean “getting the hang of it.” But, on the level of cognitive reconstruction, this could also mean developing an understanding as to the intention of the artist/engineer with emergent goals becoming possible after multiple instances of interaction. This approach also becomes more palatable when we include Pink’s annotation to mastery, that it is an asymptote.

Which leads us to purpose. This could include living an optimal life, connecting with other members of humanity, intuiting, or all of the above. This is difficult to define because the purpose of art and the purpose of someone interacting with art is up to debate and interpretation.

Perhaps the role of art is to share a purpose.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Compassion Augmentation Manifesto Intro

Manifesto Intro:

While compassion may or may not be our “natural” attitude towards others according to differing traditions, it can be noted that societal constructs, on the whole, do not necessarily support compassionate behavior, favoring instead a market/perceived worth-based social structure. Compassion, however, can be promoted and developed within an individual’s mental architecture through various means.

In regards to certain academic traditions, these particular means can go by other names such as “facts”, in the context of Lewin’s field theory. Those “facts” which are capable of changing a person’s mental state towards a more stable meta-mood of compassion have not yet been fully explored.

Within the realm of developing technologies and interactive digital media specifically, those factors regarding interaction, user experience design, content, context, intimacy, and empathy are of special interest.

The complex nature of multi-faceted interaction towards compassion augmentation provides an exciting milieu for further exploration and study.

It is the responsibility of artists/engineers/scientists to develop and reinvest knowledge continually within an iterative process towards the augmentation of the human intellect as well as towards the augmentation of compassion, as the two act to balance human evolution towards a sustainable future.