socialization in the modern age

I am on fire today! Can I get a whoop whoop! Fourth post in 24 hours! And they’re actually sociologish!

Ahem. Sorry. Anyway, via Unfogged, a story about modern methods of socialization:

Ennea, a project from students at the Eindhoven University of Technology is one of the cooler things I’ve seen in a long time, developed during a six week design class. The students focused on an interesting problem – the problems incoming Dutch high-school students have in building socialization skills. The Dutch education system doesn’t have middle schools, so students go directly from an elementary school to high school, a transition that can be difficult and stressful. Schools assign “tutors” to groups of pupils, and they meet for an hour a week to work on socialization skills. The designers talked with tutors and realized they had very little information about how their students were doing, and designed a fascinating social tool that works as a very clever form of surveillance and behavior tracking.

The designers produced a set of small, cute, wireless-aware objects that students carried with them for a few weeks. The objects measured interactions between children, timing the interactions each child had, and whether they were with individuals or groups. This information allows the designers to describe each child’s interactions in a two-dimensional matrix based on interaction diversity and intensity. (Meet a lot of people and you’re more diverse. Spend a long time with a person, and it’s more intense.)

Rather than scoring the children on good or bad types of interaction, the device characterizes a user as one of nine animals: Lions are very diverse and very intense in their interactions. Their opposites are Polar Bears, who interact infrequently and briefly. Users can change roles over time – the device vibrates when your state changes, but you can only see what role you’ve taken on by “mating” your device with another person’s device, giving the opportunity for conversation and interaction. For “complementary” roles, the animal icons will glow gold.

While the students only see what animal currently represents them, the tutors get rich data on student interactions and can see how individual students are doing. Both have evidently found it useful in prototype – I can imagine scenarios in which tutor “surveillance” becomes worrisome, especially if certain behavioral patterns lead to interventions from the tutors. But it’s a lovely way to generate useful feedback data from wireless social interaction, and it’s possible that this will become used within Dutch schools.

Lizardbreath’s commentary is pretty good, and Shelly’s offers the positive flip side.

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “socialization in the modern age”

  1. What do you think?

    Horrifying. I didn’t realize I had to be grateful that school authorities weren’t tracking all my interactions with my classmates when I was 14.


  2. I wonder if you could run a (not too ethical) Pygmalion-like experiment: tell some kids that they are lions and see if they act more like lions, etc. In general, I wonder how the roles become self-fulfilling, and if people would start to cluster with others of their type (as appropriate), etc. It seems like a goldmine of data, if real creepy.


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