Social Garden Concept

Part of a poster graphic from the MIT project page

Part of a poster graphic from the MIT project page

I have been pondering the interaction of technology and our social lives. I saw a project page at MIT called “Social Gardens” that was kind of interesting.

Here’s their description:

“Technology has allowed people to develop larger social networks than previously done. But as a result, we have more relationships than we can manage. Social Gardening explores using plants as metaphor for relationships, hoping to encourage us to tend our social connections like we do our garden. By tracking and analyzing communications through email, instant messaging, social websites, SMS, and phone, Social Gardening proposes to give feedback on how our relationships are flourishing or wilting. It may also provide a practical interface to browse and manage conversations and contacts.”

Another portion of the MIT project poster

Another portion of the MIT project poster

I was looking at the poster they had created, and you can see in a portion I excerpted above, that some people are shown as potted flowers and Natasha is an unpotted cactus.

This got me wondering – in this metaphorical garden, who was Natasha? Was she represented by a prickly plant because she had ready defenses in her personality? Are the other people in pots because they are somehow insulated from their true natures?

And then I was thinking that if this social garden tool was able to monitor communications to see how much we were tending to others, why not go further and look at the kinds of interactions we are having – are our messages exchanged positive or negative? Are they nurturing us? Are our moods improved after our interactions? Who is initiating contact? There are so many kinds of things we may be able to understand if the transactional data can be extracted, analyzed and then represented in a way that we can see more about their nature than we do now.

And what if we might be able to aggregate our metrics of social interaction so that we have a kind of karmic scorecard? How and when would we want to show others how nice we are to our friends, family, co-workers, and strangers?

Dig around that MIT site and there is another project where cars learn our driving behaviors. They were thinking that this information could be used so that people that practice safe driving could use data collected by their car to lower their insurance rate. But what if this information, which is easily observable externally, could then be displayed for other drivers to see, so that rude drivers may be recognized and conditioned by other drivers, for instance. (So perhaps if your driving quotient being displayed tells people you have been a jerk at every opportunity, then perhaps you’ll never given those little courtesies that are normally given, and until you learn to be nice you’ll never get let into a busy lane again)

If we kept better track of our behavior and our communication, would that help us to be better people, or just give us reason to hide our true natures better?

Advertisements

5 responses to “Social Garden Concept

  1. This got me wondering – in this metaphorical garden, who was Natasha? Was she represented by a prickly plant because she had ready defenses in her personality? Are the other people in pots because they are somehow insulated from their true natures?

    Interesting how different symbols can call up different meanings to different people; I thought of the cactus as something that doesn’t wilt, and doesn’t need to be watered and fussed over. What exactly this translates to here, I’m not sure.

  2. Oh! Another thought on looking at the picture. “Natasha” (the cactus) is shown as the userpic on the phone. Perhaps “Natasha” is the user herself (which would explain why she wouldn’t need “watering”).

  3. Interesting thoughts, Mistletoe. I guess the cool thing about this guy’s presentation is that he was trying to create a thought provoking glimpse at an idea for an invention that hasn’t actually been created, and we can riff on it and participate in the creative process.

  4. Actually, “Mistletoe”, your first impression was correct. Natasha is my sister who had been living in Europe, and due to our history and distance, our relationship is represented as a healthy, low-maintenance plant. It’s probably a bad idea to tell users that a relationship is irreparably damaged (like Michael there), and better to simply readjust expectations and suggest that maybe you’re not the kind of friends who do talk frequently.

    This is a program that runs on a Macintosh to collect the data, and displays the garden on a Mac, iPhone or photoframe. The main metrics are frequency and length of message, but emotional valence is next, and it would be visualized in the form of thorns.

  5. Wow! I’m working on such a project and it was even called Social Garden! I think are minds are linked! You can search for it over at github. Currently the wiki is most developed at sourceforge though where the project is called pangaia.

    Check it out!

    markos

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s