Technology should make users happier, boffins say

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Thursday, 26 February, 2015

Technology should make users happier, boffins say

The fundamental approach to designing computer software should be changed to foster happiness and empathy in users, two University of Sydney researchers are urging.

Professor Rafael Calvo from the university’s School of Electrical and Information Technology and Dorian Peters from the Faculty of Education and Social Work are advocating for the adoption of a new “positive computing” software design method.

“For the past three decades we have been focused on technology for improving performance and productivity,” Calvo said.

“We need to move on from that, towards developing technology that respects and improves our wellbeing, something we call positive computing.”

Technology can support positive emotions, self-awareness, mindfulness, empathy and compassion, the academics argue. According to Peters, there are already examples that show certain technology designs can increase altruism and self-awareness.

“Even people at the big tech companies are starting to see the benefits of considering impact on wellbeing for both business and social reasons,” he said. Facebook runs a Compassion Project aimed at exploring these benefits, and Google likewise has an annual Mindfulness Week.

“We know how to make technology irresistible, addictive even,” Calvo said. “We should repurpose this knowledge into designing digital products that support quality of life and psychological flourishing.”

The two researchers have published a book detailing ways that digital experiences affect emotions and quality of life. They are also involved in projects designed to put these concepts into action, including two aiming to help adolescents with chronic illness transition to mature self-management of their disease.

“If this was just about dealing with the practical, we could just make an app that reminded them to take their medicine, but this is about something bigger,” Peters said.

“It’s about helping young people develop a sense of competence and autonomy, both of which are key factors of psychological wellbeing.”

Image courtesy of MrDerk under CC

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