This project is an investigation into a solution to the growing loneliness among young people. This speculative solution is presented through an interactive installation. In addition, new ways of storytelling are sought in which the user actively participates in the story, a way in which virtuality becomes intimate and emotional. The user of the installation is placed in a situation where they can experience the speculative solution in operation. The scenario is presented with sound only, without the use of imagery. In this way, everyone can project their own imagination, thereby creating a personal experience.
Together Alone is a research project that was made in the media lab of Avans Hogeschool. The project is focused on exploring new meaningful ways of storytelling through multisensory experiences. The installation features interactive spatial soundscape, audible by a custom bone-conducting device.
Imagine standing in an empty void where you can’t see anything. The only thing creating a sense of orientation is the sound that you hear. When walking to the right, your hear sounds of people approaching, if you walk over to the left you will come closer to some music. You are at a party, which can be challenging for people who do not have social skills. It seems like you get left out a little because you don’t have anyone to talk to and when you approach people, they walk away and it seems like people are laughing at you.
The user interacts with the digital friend via speech. A bone conducting headband has been designed for this installation. These are small vibrating elements that make the eardrum move through vibrations. The beauty of this technology is that the relationship between wearer and AI friend is very intimate: the bone conductors make the voice appear very soft and close by: like someone whispers to you.
This is the multisensory installation in which Together Alone can be experienced. The concept portrayed in the installation is a speculative solution to the growing loneliness among young people. Not only is loneliness bad for the mind, but it’s as bad as smoking a pack a day, some sources say. Social contact is a basic human need and it is a misconception that lonely people are alone: they can have friends or be among people regularly. In Japan, a psychological condition called Hikikomori has even been declared. This is a group of the population that withdraws socially: they no longer leave their apartment, they order food online and communicate via games and other digital platforms. Some even have a digital partner.
The speculative solution to the social problem is a digital friend. You can compare the system with a Siri of some sorts. The user tells what he is struggling with and what he would like to do, perhaps contact someone else -but he is afraid of their response. By combining a psychological profile with biometric data such as heart rate, temperature and sweating, an artificial intelligent friend can know how you feel at any given time. The AI friend will nudge the user to take action but is can also acts as an emotional safety net. When the user has a breakdown for example, it is nice to hear that it is not a problem to be alone and that everyone has moments like this.
The prototype was made using MAX MSP, and further developed in the game engine Unity. Using Bluetooth to send data to the user, he or she is able to freely move within the black void. Ultrawideband was used to track the users position within the space.