Reading Response #7
to Artful Design • Chapter 7: “Social Design”

Jack Xiao
MUSIC 256A / CS 476A, Stanford University

Reading Response: Design for (Genuine) Human Connection

In a world full of technology and innovation, the concept (or should I say goal) of genuine human connection is difficult to pin down. What does genuine human connection mean? Can we achieve connection simply by participating anonymously in some social application or process, or does it require a deeper, more identifiable interaction? Or, perhaps, does the anonymity open the door for more vulnerability and personal connections that would otherwise have not occurred? Chapter 7 of Artful Design focuses on social design, and as the very first principle states, we ought to

- Principle 7.1: Design for Human Connection

as an end in and of itself. I like to think of human connection as involving two sides of ourselves: one side which we have control over, and the other side which we do not. The side we have control over is the one we broadcast to the world and associate with our identity. Our appearance, the real-world conversations we have with other humans, our social media profiles, are all things that we make an effort (consciously or subconsciously) to control. Our standard perception of human connection resides in this realm, where many of us subject ourselves to the opinions of others in order to obtain some measure of social self-worth and the feeling of social connection.The side we do not have control over is everything else: the more secretive, personal feelings and desires that we have, many of which we do not realize we have. This is the side that manifests itself when we are alone, when no one is watching. So how does this secretive side have anything with human connection when it is something that we never reveal to others? The answer, perhaps, lies in Principle 7.7: A Little Anonymity can go a Long Way and Principle 7.8: Design “Anti” Social and Omni-Social Networks. When we are anonymous, we can interact with others without being seen by anyone, something that seems oxymoronic but is very much possible with the right use of technology. And, while the identifiable human connection that we have in the real-world is certainly meaningful because it often makes us feel good and valued within society, the “private” human connection we achieve with anonymity can be more powerful, as it also involves connecting with our own human-ness moreso that connecting with others. In a way, this is the most genuine human connection we can have: unfiltered and unaffected by social expectation/pressure, and the most true to ourselves.

As Principle 7.13: Design for Familiar Anonymity describes, technology (especially the internet) has vastly expanded our range of low-level social connections. These familiar strangers may or may not be truly anonymous or associated with a known identity, but in any case we don’t know them in person. I think this “zone” of familiar anonymity is where most of our connection comes from these days, as more of our interaction moves online where “anonymization” is commonplace. We can talk about things with familiar strangers that we could never talk about with someone we physically look in the eye. We can reflect upon our own lives based on the depiction of the life of someone we’ve never met. In general, I believe that it’s extraordinarily challenging to self-reflect and connect with your own humanity in a vacuum. We need some sort of metric, some sort of baseline with which to evaluate and draw conclusions. It is often said that comparison is the thief of joy, but I think some degree of comparison is necessary in order to reflect and find connection in the first place. And, the easiest comparison to make in today’s world is with the online profile/blog/website of someone thousands of miles away who we will never physically see in our lives.