Motivations for the Study

 

1/5 Americans suffer from Loneliness.

Feelings of loneliness increases mortality risk by unto 26%

The number of Americans living alone has tripled since 1970 to 33.2 million.

 

I started this project because I often felt lonely. Even though I had 500 friends on facebook, I had nobody to talk to.

Loneliness is growing in the modern world and technology is being blamed for it. Social media which is supposed to connect people together is being criticized for pushing people away. People are spending more time online and less time with each other says Sherry Turkle. Interactions mediated by technology are also criticized as being non authentic. People do not present their true self online. 

So the question I am trying to answer is, “Can technology help people in combating loneliness? If yes, how?”

 

 

Predispositions

I believe that, in a world of seven billion people, one should not be lonely.

I believe that there are enough resources in the world for everyone to be happy and lead a healthy life.

 

Ripple Effect

What if loneliness was solved? Lets take a look at the impact it could have on the individual, his immediate friends and family and the society overall. At an individual level, the person would be happy, confident, and healthy. His relationships with his friends and family will improve. They would be more trusting of each other, more understanding of each other, and intimate with each other. This in turn impacts the society overall. We would see happier cities, a motivated workforce and a sense of community which gives them meaning in their life.  

 
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Peoples perception on Loneliness

I asked people what loneliness is and what it means to them. I have summarized the answers below. Peplau and Perlman [1] conducted a similar study. They said that even though a “lay person may not all share the same concept of loneliness,  but intuitively they know what loneliness is.” Each of these answers represents the different facets of loneliness - feeling helpless, yearning for another persons presence, sadness as a result of being alone, or not being a meaningful member of a community.

 

 
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Description of Data Collection Methods and Rationales

Primary Research ( User Interviews )

I interviewed several participants for the purpose of this study. I didn’t particularly lter any participants but made an argument that everybody must have felt lonely at some point in their time and hoped re ecting on these moments could give me a better understanding of what they were going through. I chose to do face to face interviews because it was important from my side to probe the user to encourage him/her to re ect on the episode.

Survey

An online survey was conducted asking them to describe a time when they felt lonely and how they dealt with it. I also asked them to talk a bit about their social circle and how they perceive it to be.

Secondary Research ( Public Data )

From the initial round of primary research I found out that it can be hard for people to talk about their feelings of loneliness. Also there weren’t many people who could be easily identi ed as struggling with loneliness. For this purposes, I resorted to the data available on the internet. Such as blog posts that people had written on their experience with loneliness. Articles de- scribing their story and how they dealt with it. Shorter episodes they had shared on websites such as ‘experience project’ and on social media. I analyzed this data to have a better under- standing of the experience of being lonely.

 
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Description of Data Analysis Methods and Rationales

Elito Method

“Elito Method is used to develop solid design arguments grounded in research observation” - Universal Methods of Design.

Elito Method has five components

Observations - What you read, saw, or heard.
Judgements - Researchers opinion on the observations as to why the observation is important. Values - The underlying values for the user. The rational or motivation behind why they did or said what they said.
Concepts - What can the designer do solve the problem.
Metaphors - A memorable tag that summarizes that speci c line of thought.

Eliot methods not only allows me to observe patterns amongst the observation but also dig deeper into why the person did/ said something. It allows me to articulate deeply on the topic at hand. And it also allows the designer to think beyond by asking one to quickly come up with concepts for the problem or the issue. This helps the designer in identifying where design can have maximum affect.

Affinity Diagramming

Affinity diagramming is a process of grouping your findings or ideas into clusters so as to identify patters amongst your findings or ideas

 
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Applying Elito Method on the public Data

 
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Summary of empirical research results

 
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Physical Co-presence is important

Often times, when we speak about loneliness, we associate it with not being able to talk to someone or connect with one another. But sometimes just having someone around you is enough. You need someone to do things with you. Loneliness is not just an emotional feeling but a physical one too. Some one being there, physical present, by your side is reassuring. “I have been doing all creative projects by myself and was just wishing for another presence” says Megan (All names changed.) Lauren, who is currently in a long distance relationship, said that she felt lonely when she couldn’t find anyone to go to dinner with. Gary talks about this in his article on the guardian. Gary had two close friends at work. One was his lunchtime companion - “our relationship fulfilled the rules of the office spouse.” Another was his pint-after-work friend. But now that both have left town, Gary sits alone in the canteen reading newspaper and never goes to the pub. This has left Gary by his own and he feels isolated. Jessica, a 44 year professional, relates to this after she moved back to Ireland after twenty years and found out that she did not have anyone there. In her article on the Irish Times, she says, "I don’t have that close female friendship anymore, someone to go for coffee with or go for a walk with, and I crave it and miss it so much."

 
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Feelings of not having any choice, feeling stuck

Users in the study did report feeling helpless. They felt that they did not have any other choice. In the sense that they did not know what to do or where to go. For Clive, coming out of closet was an extremely lonely experience for him. He felt stuck and didn’t know what to do. “I could not imagine any options.” He was very depressed and really felt the need to talk to someone about it.

 
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Routine Lifestyle

Lonely people reportedly also had a routine lifestyle. It could be a consequence of the not seeing options as described earlier. “Not knowing what other choice I had, I just followed the daily routine,” says Dough. Olivia Lang in her essay “Me, Myself, and I,” suggestively speaks of her routine life in Manhattan. “Most days, I went for a coffee in the same place…each time, the same thing happened….each time, without fail, the barista looked blankly up and asked me to repeat myself.” David, a senior citizen, who has been living alone in the UK for the last eight years says “every day is the same and I have to discipline myself to cope with it.”

 
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Disconnected and feelings of needed to be understood by others

“Even though I was surrounded by people, nobody I knew was going through the same experience" says Lucy, who was going through a lonely period after her divorce. People who are lonely are going through a tough experience and they expect themselves to be understood. "And what bothers me most is that no one asked me what was happening" says Emily White in her article on the Guardian. They want somebody to check on them. They expect help from someone else. It is the same feeling that occurs when one falls sick. ”No one knows how you feel inside and it’s amazing to see people going about their business not knowing that someone within reach is hurting so much inside" says Claire. It could also be that they see others as having a good time and themselves as not. While it is totally possible that others might be going through tough times too. But somehow this speaks to the inherent need for people to be understood. This also touches upon the need for people to have authentic conversations on things that matter.

 
 

Loneliness amongst patient and caregiver in a hospital

To move next into the design phase, i decided to pick a context to work with so as to narrow down the problem space. I decided to focus on patients and caregivers in a hospital who feel lonely dues to a variety of issues.

I interviewed my mother who was in a hospital for a period of two moths taking care of her father during his last few days. I also interviewed my grandmother who was in a hospital fora heart surgery for about fifteen days.

 

Affinity Diagramming the research findings

 
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Archeology of problem situation

Why do caregivers feel lonely at a hospital?

  • hospital rules do not allow for more than one person with the patien

  •  hospital rules allow visitation only during specific time of the day

  • there is nobody else for them to talk to apart from the patient but interactions with the patient can be highly fulfilling

  • can’t talk about anything else other than what’s going on with the patient

  • hospital environment is serious

  • have to be with the patient all the time

  • can not know what’s going on the outside - cut off from interactions with others (or

    limited to people in the hospital)

 
 
 

Establishing Core Paradox

  1. Because patients are suffering, the caregivers are in an emotionally-let-down state of mind. And because caregivers are in emotionally-let-down state of mind, it is difficult to to talk or engage them in anything else.

  2. Because caregivers are in a hospital, others (family and friends) talk only about the happenings in the hospital and patient related matters. And Because everyone talks only about hospital related matters, it becomes difficult to engage the patient and caregiver in something else.

  3. Because it’s a hospital, it is cut off from the outside world and interactions are limited to people within the hospital. Because everyone inside a hospital is worried about their own issues, it’s is difficult to engage them in something else.

 
 
 

Reframing the problem

When I was interviewing my grandmother about her experience in a hospital, she said something. She said "All I wanted was to go back home."

So I asked,

"How do you create a feeling of home among the patient and caregiver in a hospital"

 
 
 

What makes you feel at home

After this, I conducted another round of interviews with the participants to understand what makes them feel more at home.

 
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Themes for Ideation

 
 

Based on the previous interview the following themes emerged

  1.  Togetherness

  2. Care

  3. Safety and Security