The Psychology Behind Mobile

Lying as a rule is generally considered socially unacceptable and morally wrong. Something is considered a lie if it is intentional and creates a false belief. Some would argue that there are certain situations in which lying is socially beneficial. This is most argued when it comes to other oriented lies—lies to benefit others. Regardless of whether one sees lying as justifiable or not, everyone has lied—even if it’s a lie about the most harmless thing—and everyone acts deceptively from time to time. When it comes to computer mediated communication, lies and deception are perhaps more common than in face to face communication.

Butler lies are a particular category of lies that utilize deception to manage social interaction. Butler lies can be used to avoid a new conversation, smoothly exit an ongoing conversation or explain other communication behavior. In John Hancock’s study of Instant Messages, of the 6996 messages sent, 685 (10%) were identified as lies, and 132 (1.89%) were classified as butler lies. I analyzed 30 text messages from my phone’s sent list and came up with the following results:

 
30 Total Messages
27 true messages
3 lies
2 butler lies

Thus, 10% of my messages were lies and 6.7% of my messages were butler lies. These results are fairly similar to the results found in the Hancock study but with an increase in the percentage of butler lies. Looking at my messages I saw that the 2 butler lies had to do with attempts to end an ongoing conversation and to explain communication behavior. The first butler lie occurred when I was talking to an annoying individual in my major who was asking me to basically give him the answer to one of the problems on our weekly problem sets. I exited the conversation with, “sorry man I’ve got a class now. I’ll catch you later.” Of course I didn’t have a class, and I never called him back. Nonetheless, the butler lie allowed me to remain polite and seem interested in helping.

The other butler lie occurred when a friend asked if I wanted to get lunch with her. I responded with, “I’m real sorry, but I have a meeting then – let’s meet Thursday.” I didn’t have a meeting later on that day but I decided to lie because Thursday was more convenient for my schedule. Stating that I had a meeting was used as an excuse or justification for my self oriented lie.

I think that lying on IM is much harder than lying via SMS text messages primarily because of the issue of speed. Text messages limit the time pressure placed on an individual to respond because there is no sense of presence or visibility. An individual could be preoccupied with other activities and could take a long time to respond. Because there is less time pressure, individuals text messaging have a longer time to compose a well drafted excuse that allows them to lie convincingly. When using an instant messenger, the pressure to respond quickly is much higher due to a stronger sense of presence and visibility—unless there is an “invisible feature.” This means individuals are under a stronger time constraint and less able to compose well thought out, deceptive lies. In that sense, one could argue that IM is perhaps morally better for society than SMS. But that is an incredibly personal and subjective question.

From Ithaca to Qatar: Mix-Mode Relationships

A few summers ago, I was in Ithaca working for a start-up and learning how to write code and query a database using SQL and the MySQL framework. Aside from this adventure, I also helped lead an incredibly unique program: the IthaQatar (IQ) Ambassadors program. The IQ program hosted close to 30 pre-medical students from our campus in Doha, Qatar during the summer. We helped them adjust to life on the Ithaca campus and went on a number of adventurous excursions in the surrounding area (such as Niagara falls, Boston and Syracuse).

In the process I became very good friends with the leader of the Qatar team—a student named Maen. Maen was originally from Lebanon and was headed into his 3rd year at the medical program in Doha. Maen and I worked closely together via Face to Face (FtF) interaction in planning a number of events—including a large scale dinner event where numerous leaders of the Cornell community and surrounding Ithaca community were in attendance. At the end of the summer, before Maen returned to Qatar, the two of us pledged to stay in touch via email in order to continue to bridge our two campuses together and ensure that future generations of Cornellians could benefit from a vibrant interaction between the two undergraduate student bodies. Unfortunately, Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) has been far more challenging than what we had originally assumed.

Cues to Choose By

In his work on mix-mode relationships, Joeseph Walther argues that there is an optimal match between the communication task and the communication medium that ought to be used. The utility of the communication mechanism or “richness of medium” is determined by four factors: multiplicity of cue systems, availability of immediate feedback, message personalization and language variety. Ultimately, Waltham argues that email is a relatively poor medium of communication or a “lean medium.”

My experience with Maen since he went back to Doha has led me to concur with Walther. Email does not allow for multiplicity of cue systems as there is really only one form of communication: electronic, text based messaging. In addition, feedback is not readily available. Because of the time difference between Ithaca and Doha and our extremely busy schedules it often takes us several days to respond to one another. Language variety is often fairly academic and formal. We rarely resort to colloquial dialect, which in turn causes us to lose a sense of message personalization and our interactions become more business oriented.

Cues Filtered Out

This sense of business oriented or task-oriented communication is a direct result of CMC. Waltham hypothesizes that the greater the bandwidth—number of communication cue systems a technology can convey—of a technology, the greater the social presence of the communicators utilizing that technology. He also argues that central to a sense of social presence is the availability of non-verbal cues. Thus, CMC is impersonal due to a lack of physical appearance, co-presence and dynamic non verbal behavior.

Again, I would have to agree with Waltham. Email has a very low bandwidth—the only available cues are an additional message in one’s inbox. Thus, when Maen and I communicated via email, our social presence was very weak. Being thousands of miles apart, we lacked physical appearance, co-presence and dynamic non verbal behavior. These concepts simply can not flourish in the text based, task oriented nature of email. As a result our relationship—in particular our ability to stay motivated towards the long term goal of uniting the Ithaca and Doha campuses has struggled.

Clearly there is a large amount of validity to what Waltham outlines. My own experience with Maen draws to the conclusion that email is both a “lean medium” and has a weak social presence—both concepts predicted by Waltham in the sections “Cues to Choose By” and “Cues Filtered Out.” One interesting application to these theories that Waltham doesn’t really address in his work on mixed mode theories is the concept of CMC in government and foreign policy. Waltham seems to argue that FtF interaction is generally better than CMC. Yet when it comes to foreign policy, diplomacy and international relations not only is CMC far more convenient, it is also far more preferred for many nations, strategically speaking. It would be interesting to see Waltham’s take on this issue.

Facebook Groups: Bringing People Together

Does anyone remember one of facebook’s hallmark features: the facebook group? I know this app is a thing of the past, but it’s worth mentioning for a couple of reasons.

In his publication on groupware and social dynamics in 1994, Jonathan Grudin argues that there are eight major challenges that developers of technology applications seeking to create better virtual spaces for collaboration must overcome. Since 1994 developers have to a large extent overcome many of these challenges. And while there still remain many problems with virtual groupware, technology and groupware development have improved tremendously. No where is this better seen than in Facebook’s old groups feature. Facebook groups addressed the problems of critical mass and the prisoner’s dilemma, disparity in work and benefit and unobtrusive accessibility. However, at the time Facebook still needed to improve on exception handling. I will be using the “No Cornellian in Poverty” group that was formed several years a year ago as a running example to illustrate these concepts.

1)    Critical mass and the Prisoner’s Dilemma: According to Grudin, one of the biggest issues with groupware is that it does not always enlist the critical mass of users required to be useful to the individual user. Facebook groups addressed this problem by creating a social setting online where a user’s existing social network is mapped out online. Currently there are more than 700 million users on facebook using the site on a consistent basis to interact with people who are important to them. Especially in younger generations, many users have accepted a vast majority of their friends as “facebook friends.” So when it comes time to form a group, whether it be for a cause like the group used in this blog, or about anything else the existing critical mass is already there to form the group. “No Cornellian in Poverty” had over 450 members in the group from an admin list of 3 people—and this was well over a year after the group was formed. Clearly facebook groups had tremendous success at acquiring critical mass.

2)    Disparity in Work and Benefit: Another one of Grudin’s concerns with groupware applications is that they often require additional work from individuals who do not perceive a direct benefit from the work that they put in. The Facebook Groups application overcame this challenge by making it really easy to set up a Facebook group. Utilizing drop down menus, auto-fill features, radio buttons and text boxes, users of the Facebook group application could set up their group in a matter of minutes and then invite all their friends to join. The small amount of work is definitely worth the reward of garnering attention to or facilitating discussion about the Facebook group.

3)    Unobtrusive Accessibility: In his paper, Grudin states that groupware ought to ensure that features that support group processes are used relatively infrequently in comparison to more heavily used features. The beauty of facebook is that it gives individual users control over the quantity and nature of information they receive via email from the group. For example, some users may find the “discussion board” useful whereas others may find the “links” useful. In either case, a user can go into the group’s settings and customize the type and quantity of emails he or she receives from the group. This allows for the application to be less obtrusive.

4)    Exception Handling: Grudin argues that groupware should be able to handle a wide range of exceptions as well as be conducive to improvisation. Herein lies the one flaw with Facebook groups—it simply wasn’t built to handle exceptions. There are a whole range of types of groups and features that facebook groups never had. This includes features like: uploading documents, synchronizing calendars of members, communicating via video chat within the group, sending out mass text messages, etc,. There are definitely a number of exceptions that facebook simply wasn’t ready to handle at the time

Nevertheless Facebook groups made a number of important strides towards overcoming Grudin’s challenges for developers. Despite having difficulty with handling exceptions, it obtained the necessary critical mass, eliminated the disparity between work and benefit and made accessibility far less obtrusive. This progress seems to suggest that slowly groupware will eliminate all the challenges that Grudin presents, making virtual collaboration as efficient and beneficial as face-to-face interaction. Yet we ought to be a little more reserved in our optimism. After all there seems to be an inherent and irreplaceable value to personal interaction. Are we then chasing an illusive goal  or trying to conquer the unconquerable? It seems that only time will tell that tale.

Startup Idea: The Computer as Health & Fitness Monitor

Health and Fitness are two of the most discussed topics in modern western culture. It seems as though everyone from doctors to health gurus to gym trainers has an opinion on how to stay healthy and fit. The number of magazines, television shows, fitness products, medical appliances and health related personnel is simply mind bogging. Entire industries and political interest groups are organized around the human body and how one can preserve its physical, mental and emotional sanctity. Because of the decentralized nature of all this knowledge and information, people often spend lots of money and hours of their time simply trying to organize their lives so they can stay healthy and fit.

Let’s take for example a diabetic female who is trying to lose 20 pounds – we’ll name her Sally for simplicity. Because Sally is diabetic, she must constantly monitor her insulin level and take the appropriate quantity of the right medication at a set time each day. If she forgets to take her medication she will suffer physically from fatigue and other complications. Because Sally is on a diet, she must constantly consult with her doctor on the appropriate foods, vitamins and minerals she ought to be taking. In addition, she is probably working with a fitness trainer each week to burn fat via exercise. She is also most likely weighing herself each day and trying to chart her own progress. This weekly routine involves interacting with many different people, devices and information sources. For Sally the gap between the gulf of execution and gulf of evaluation, at each phase and collectively as a whole, is extremely wide. If there were a way to aggregate all this information into one computer operated device with strong visibility and solid feedback, Sally would be much better off.

This is where my invented Health and Fitness monitor would come into play. This device would be a ring shaped product that a user, we’ll continue with Sally, could place on her finger and wear each day. The ring would monitor and store to memory all activity within the human body. At any point in time, Sally could turn on a display mode which would pull up a 3-D visual of her body in mid-air. All action done with the device would be via interaction with this 3-D visual floating in the air:

The Health and Fitness monitor would allow Sally to view her body from a whole range of angles: the skeleton, nervous system, blood vessels and organs, muscle tissue, etc., It would also allow her to monitor her insulin levels and weight fluctuation—giving her a running analysis week by week, day by day.  The monitor would send her reminders, in the form of vibrating sounds or flashing lights, when she needed to take a certain medication, go for a run or get some rest. The monitor would also be integrated with other systems including her doctor and fitness monitor’s computers, her tread mill, her digital cook book and her personal calendar allowing for Sally to take complete control of organizing and centralizing information.

The design of the Health and Fitness monitor would be intuitive in the sense that there would be a number of constraints that would make each action easy to see, complete, interpret, evaluate and reverse (if necessary). Sally would probably be most interested in using the command mode of the monitor, but for more tech savvy individuals, a direct manipulation mode with open source software would be made available. The monitor would also map the relationship between all controls and actions—in particular the touch sensitive buttons hovering in the air. The feedback from the device would utilize both sound and visual changes to ensure that Sally knows what the effects of her actions are. The ultimate goals would be to aggregate information into one centralized source and narrow the afore mentioned gap between the gulf of execution and gulf of evaluation.

From a user point of view and from a technological point of view, this would be a really great invention that could help many. However, two important factors to consider are: privacy and patient confidentiality. These topics raise a number of questions that would need to be answered if the Health and Fitness Monitor were to be produced and integrated across multiple systems, where many people would have access to personal information. But from a design perspective there are quite a few benefits.

Doing it the Right Way at Dunkin Donuts

Have you ever had a problem with transporting liquid in your vehicle? Ever spilt coffee in your car and had to put up with wet seats, leather stains or the stench of week-old coffee? I’ve certainly had these problems before but hopefully that will all change due to a convenient discovery I made this weekend.

Sunday I had to bring coffee and donuts to an event for 20 people. Because I’m not hugely creative when it comes to food, I immediately narrowed my list of options to one vendor: Dunkin Donuts. But I’ve never been very lucky with transporting liquid in cars and, as such, I was concerned that there would be a lot of spillage. This would, of course, translate into a big clean up job and more work for me. It is for this reason that I was extremely pleased when I pulled up to the drive through window and the Dunkin Donuts employee handed me a “box o’ Joe” coffee box.

Perhaps, the best thing about the box o’ Joe is that its cubic shape affords more stability than most containers. It rests securely and comfortably on any car seat. The weight of the coffee is distributed evenly across the box, ensuring that the box remains stable rather than rolling around and spilling its contents. Another important affordance is the handle, which clues the user in on the appropriate way of holding the box and laying it down on his or her car seat.

Once the user has arrived at his or her destination and is ready to consume the coffee, the box o’ Joe continues to be worthy of Hall of Fame status. The box has a visible shape that mimics the traditional coffee-pot or tea-pot shape, allowing for quick perception of the method in which the box should be used. In addition to the already mentioned handle, the white capped nozzle acts as a pseudo-spout. These design functions allow for more ease of use—mapping out the relationship between the controls (handle and spout) and their action (pouring the coffee).

The only criticism of of the box o” Joe is the use of the box at the end. Initially, when the box is full of coffee, liquid flows out steadily and the user can visually gauge how much coffee is being poured out. However, as the liquid dwindles the user must lift the box higher and higher in the air until the width of the box actually blocks the view of the cup into which the coffee is being poured. This can result in too little or too much coffee being poured. Nevertheless, box o’ Joe coffee is on the whole a great product that ought to be replicated in other similar restaurants. Great job Dunkin Donuts.

Making a Bunch of Green by Going Green

I thought it would probably be a good idea to write about something that has to do with the environment as I haven’t yet touched on this yet. The problem is I have always had some degree of reservation when placing entrepreneurship and environmentalism in the same sentence. It’s not that entrepreneurs can’t uphold environmental principles or help reduce pollution or any other dilemma. It’s simply the intense difference in image and meaning surrounding the two concepts. Often people will say that going green should be an altruistic thing that you do for the earth and for future generations. The concept of making a profit while doing so is often associated with greed or inefficiency.

Yet, I would say that making a profit while simultaneously bettering the environment is something that should be respected, and perhaps even promoted in the coming years. And entrepreneurs who innovate in this manner may soon become leaders of the environmental movement.

Take James Poss of Needham, Massachusetts for example. He invented the BigBelly trash can and started Seahorse Power Co. to advance his product. The BigBelly trash can is similar to any other trash can except it uses solar energy to compress trash when the trash can gets too full. This means that people can pile more trash into their trash bins, which in turn means that trash collection frequency is drastically reduced. As the number of diesel-burning garbage trucks decreases, the amount of fuel burned by these trucks decreases as well. Moreover Poss’ Device has put him in places of influence on a national level—the U.S. Forest Service and the Borough of Queens are both clients.

Other entrepreneurs such as Professor Daniel Kammen tend to focus more on the research and innovation end of entrepreneurship. Kammen, a professor at UC Berkley and Cornell alumnus, developed a UV tube for light bulbs that saves energy and cuts down on costs. Although Kammen had the opportunity to plunge fully into growing a company, he chose to stay in the innovative phase so that he can contribute more to the current knowledge of sustainable energy. (Click here to listen to eClips content from Kammen)

While entrepreneurs like Poss and Kammen have different goals and priorities, it is clear that such entrepreneurs are jumping into the market very rapidly. The Center for Small Business and the Environment (CSBE) said clean-tech startups accounted for 6.4 percent of all North American venture investments in 2003. And this number is only going to keep climbing in the coming years. Clearly, environmentalism is becoming a global issue. Look to entrepreneurs to lead the way.

Social Entrepreneurs: The Hidden Profits

Social Entrepreneurship is a strain of entrepreneurship that has been gaining attention as of late. Traditionally, social entrepreneurship was often thought of as charity or volunteer work done by non-profit organizations or private individuals. While social entrepreneurship does often take this form, it is important to realize that social entrepreneurs go through much of the same process as other entrepreneurs. In fact, the classification of a social entrepreneurial endeavor as simply a “charity” hides the many similarities between social entrepreneurship and business entrepreneurship.

A few years ago my friend Nick Batter, currently a senior at Harvard University, went on a volunteer summer relief trip to Sri Lanka. The nation had just been devastated by the historic tsunami and Nick figured he’d travel with a large group like the Red Cross or UNICEF to help the relief efforts. Yet, he was advised that these large organizations were inefficient and had a very difficult time getting access to the hardest hit parts of the island. So Nick decided he would get a bunch of friends together, raise some money and use the money to oversee the implementation of sustainable projects that would better the village communities damaged by the catastrophic tsunami.

That was the summer of 2005. Now, three years later, Nick and his group of friends are in charge of a non-profit organization named Sri Lankan Aid. Their growth has been absolutely tremendous. From an initial budget of 25 cents, they have grown to close to $20,000 per summer trip. 100% of there money goes towards building facilities that village communities in Sri Lanka desperately need. This includes classrooms, orphanage wings, water pumps, village centers and many other things. They have also created a film documentary of their progress known as Lions and Tigers, which is set to be released in late 2008. Sri Lankan Aid has been recognized by Congressional members and by the former President of Sri Lanka. Each year the non-profit grows in size, and I feel honored to know these guys.

The primary reason why I bring up Nick is because he is a perfect example of what I consider to be a social entrepreneur. Social entrepreneurs, like business entrepreneurs, identify and try to resolve specific problems. Of course, their problems tend to have social or humanitarian connections, but they address the problems in similar manners. On the results side, social entrepreneurs tend to measure their success in terms of the magnitude of their impact on society rather than the amount of money they make. In that sense, being a social entrepreneur has profits far more valuable than silver and gold.

eClips has a growing collection of stories from social entrepreneurs. You also might want to check out the clips we have in the “Social Entrepreneur – Defined” theme or in the “Transfering Social Values To A Business Model” theme…