Communications technology provides greater capability than ever for people to stay in touch, but somehow it feels hard to reach out to someone for a meaningful interaction. Redesigning the entry point to the phone might be the key to unlocking this dilemma.
Framing the Problem
I remember a few years ago when a group of my friends from home and I met up during winter break to hang out in one of our parents' basement. We ended up sitting around, reading off of our phones the names of people from high school, and unfriending them from our Facebook friend lists. What started out as a tidying-up of our social networks became a competition to see who could have the fewest friends. We all seemed to acknowledge that if we weren't interested in interacting with certain people in person, then why would we stay connected online?
Implicit in that assumption was that the people we did keep in our networks would remain in our lives. In the years since, I've realized that despite having an online connection to people I care about and the intention to keep in touch with them, I have developed no habits to reach out regularly, and the inertia grows stronger every day. How could it be that I have a device on me at all times that allows me to connect with people I truly wish to interact with regularly, yet I consistently fail to?
Maybe I wasn't totally failing to interact. The people I care about were still appearing on my phone on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook, but the extent of our interaction was usually only to like a photo or to comment on a post. I didn't want to just be aware of the people I care about though. I wanted to have a meaningful interaction with them, and I never felt like I had one over social media.
My smartphone could easily facilitate a meaningful interaction with a phone call or videochat, but nothing pushed me in this direction. I somehow always wound up on social media. Statista reports that globally, people average over two hours of social media consumption everyday. What I wanted was to put that time towards meaningful interactions. What I needed was my smartphone to help me form that habit.
Keys to Forming a Habit
What I wanted was an easy intervention to my current routine that encouraged me to use my smartphone to have a meaningful interaction. Immediately I thought of a few solutions - setting reminders to tell me to call someone, removing social media apps from my phone to prevent myself from spending my time scrolling through a news feed instead of calling someone, or telling myself that whenever someone likes a post of mine that I should reach out to them. While all of these interventions were simple and could be implemented immediately, they all felt forced, as if I'm telling myself that I'm doing something wrong by not reaching out to the people I care about.
Routines are simply behaviors formed as a response to a cue in pursuit of a reward. In all of the solutions I'd considered, the reward was essentially not feeling guilty driven by cues of reminders and "likes" on social media. What I needed was to consider the positive reward of social interaction, the feeling of community and connection to someone you care about. If I could find a way to present a cue on my phone that made me think of the feeling of a meaningful interaction, then maybe I could create a routine of reaching out to the people I wanted to regularly. This logic led me directly to the idea that the best way to remind someone of what it feels like to be with their friends is to show them a picture from an event with their friends.
Knocking on Opportunity
Photos are powerful in their ability to transport people to moments in time, causing viewers to recall intangible details and sometimes instill a sense of nostalgia. Imagine what might happen if a smartphone user were to be regularly presented photos of moments with a person that the smartphone user cares about. If these photos were to be shown before the user falls into their routine of unlocking their phone, checking their notifications, and opening their favorite social media app, could a new habit of reaching out to someone shown in a photo happen?
The question has been considered before. Some may remember Facebook Home, a smartphone interface which had the idea of presenting updates from friends on the home screen. However, the routine formed out of Facebook Home is essentially the same as for using Facebook - to see posts, interact on the post, and move on. This is largely because the photos shown, which typically were of moments happening right now, didn't inspire the same train of thought that a photo with which someone is familiar might.
There still exists a tremendous opportunity to turn the lock screen from an overlooked page that the user swipes past into the doorstep for conversation in a way that hasn't been done before. One concept for how that might be achieved is through a proposal for a lock screen application, Front Door.
Welcome to Front Door
Front Door is designed to promote the use of smartphones for meaningful interactions by providing users with the ability to easily connect with those that matter most to them from the moment they open their phone. Rather than a lock screen that displays a set photo, users open to a lock screen of a new image of someone that is important to the user every time they pull out their phone. From the lock screen, Front Door gives users the functionality to easily make a call to the individual in the photo or to schedule a call with them at a later time.
The concept behind Front Door is that when presented with a photo of someone with whom we are close, we remember what it is like to interact with them and want that feeling. Front Door argues that the pathway to that feeling is through a meaningful interaction, and a smartphone can facilitate that well through phone calls and video calls. With Front Door, users change the routine of unlocking their phone, leading users to consider making or scheduling a call upon seeing a photo instead of wasting hours scrolling through a news feed.
How it Works
To start using Front Door, users download the app and walk through the set up process which is detailed in a section below. In the set up, users select from their contacts the individuals that they would like to have in their lock screen rotation. Front Door then pulls photos of these individuals from the users' photo library to be shown when the user opens to their lock screen, providing users with a selection of personal and sentimental moments as a launchpad for conversation.
When the user arrives at their lock screen, they will see the picture of someone they selected to be in their rotation. By swiping, users arrive at a menu where they have the opportunity make a phone call or a video call through the user's default applications for those functions, or schedule a call through Front Door's scheduler.
Front Door is a simple concept that could have great benefits for users over time. With the opportunity and encouragement to reach out to a friend every time an individual opens their phone, users could make a habit out of reaching out to their friends for a meaningful conversation.