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Premises for Distant Narrative Project

Premises for Distant Narrative Project

(for February 9, 2011 meeting)


Based on readings 1 and 2, the Distant Narratives can incorporated the following aesthetical considerations:

The overall design of components can be created as an embedded system designed to be non-intrusive or disruptive in appearance or form to the user’s existing home décor.

The use of LED lights embedded into materials such as floor matts or rugs can be used to transmit information in a way that is pleasing to the user and builds on familiarity with uses of light in this way that are present in other objects used in the home setting.

A collapsible screen could be part of the system (for the surface to project images on from the LCD projector), but the system can be designed to use existing wall space in a hallway or other area of the home as the projection surface.

The components of the system can be made into a few main components: a unit which houses the projector, a structure for holding a computer equipped with wireless capabilities and motion sensors from above, a floor matt or rug with LED lights, a housing for fans which can be located at floor level and directed upward toward the person using the system, and a remote set of LED lights which can be triggered by wireless technology to act as a remote indicator to the user. By having a set of easy to use, portable, components that can be integrated into the home, the system will not disrupt the home environment, but add to it and be accepted by the user similar to any new device or appliance which will be used frequently.


Based on readings 1, 2 and 6, the Distant Narratives can incorporate the following considerations for functionality:

User interface elements need to be easy to use and simple. User interface design should incorporate design which allows for ease of use on the part of older adults, similar to design considerations for assistive technologies. This includes, large type and other interface elements and embodied interface elements which allow for decreased physical mobility and cognitive ability, for example, memory, associated with older adults.

The system needs to be easy to set up and put away, for parts of the system that can be designed to allow for this. It needs to be portable.

Based on reading 3 and 5, the following design considerations for functionality can be considered:

The system will facilitate both face to face contact for close and distant connections and increase the frequency of these connections.

Allowing for this socialization is a key functionality which is connected to improving health.


Based on readings 3 and 4, the Distant Narratives can incorporate the following considerations for psychology:

The system being created will help the user build on existing relationships, family and friends, that are distant and of closer proximity. This will alleviate depression by reducing the sense of isolation, improving cognitive health and quality of life issues.

Based on reading 7:

Projects that help older adults create and maintain relationships while also promoting deeper casual relationships is important. It fosters a sense the companionship aspect of relationships for this age group.


Based on readings 1, 2, and 6, the Distant Narratives can incorporate the following considerations for using technology:

The use of:

motions sensors – infrared sensors (positioned above)

LED lights


LCD projector


arduino interface for programmable electronics

The system design will utilize portable, wireless technology to enable a set of pieces that are not all in the same location. The LCD projector and remote LED indicators will be at one location, the computer and motion sensors will be located near the projection surface. The fans will be located at the projection surface and LED lights will be embedded into a floor matt surface or rug. This compartmentalization of the system allows for a non-intrusive, embedded design aesthetic and also will make the system easy to set up and store if necessary.

Based on reading 8:

It is important to look at how technology is currently used is a potential user’s home. The degree of comfort with modern technology for that user can influence the type of introductory information that needs to be communicated and what considerations need to be made for set up of the system and maintaining the system in the home.

Review of Sources for Distant Narratives

Eight papers are discussed, organized into three main areas for each source:

what the paper is about – summary

relevance to Distant Narratives project

specific examples / data / concepts relevant to Distant Narratives

paper 1

Survey of Assistive Technology Devices and Applications for Aging in Place


2009 Second International Conference on Advances in Human-Oriented and Personalized Mechanisms, Technologies, and Services


This paper, authored by Andrea O’Brien and Ronan Mac Ruairi at the Software Technology Research Centre at Dundalk Institute of Technology in Louth, Ireland, is a survey of assistive technology devices to suit an older person who is located in a single place or location. Current technologies and uses are discussed along with emerging technologies indicated by current development. The authors classify devices and associated technologies with the aim of aiding research in this area.

Relevance to Distant Narratives Project

Because the project involves a designed use of technology to create an interactive experience for older adults, the paper is relevant because it contains an overview of technologies used in designed systems for this population. Also, the paper discusses how these technologies are employed, describing common areas of use and lists specific examples of products for each technology area and applications which combine several technologies in a unique system.

Specific Content of Interest for Distant Narratives Project

In the section for ‘Continuous’ systems (pg. 9, sec. 1), Walking Aids are discussed. For the Distant Narratives project, there may be the need to design for older adults who are not able to stand or remain standing for prolonged periods, but who want to used the system. Assisted walking devices like the ones described here, for example Honda’s wearable walking device may provide ideas on designing for this kind of affordance. Although there may not be the need to create a similar device, there may be some kind of assistive technology incorporated into the design (for example, a chair or other built-in support). In section 2, ‘Quality of Life’, the ‘Big Button Telephone’ is cited as an example of interface design for communication which allows for large sized text, making it easier to use for older adults who have impaired or diminished vision. This is another area to be aware of in designing any element of the project that involves reading (instructions) or usage of interface elements.

Also in Section 2, in ‘Cognitive Training,’ the HERMES is given as an example of assistive technology which supports cognitive training to improve memory. Although Distant Narratives does not have the same exact purpose or use, it is good to recognize the diminishment of cognitive skills in older adults and design accordingly in the areas of instructions, interface design, interactive cues etc.

Another are of specific interest is in ‘General Monitoring’ (pg. 10). The Vigil Dementia System, employs sensors for monitoring the bed and motion and is able to recognize motion of a specific individual. This is done to not trigger alarms in the system due to confusion on who is generating the movement. This type of use could be useful in Distant Narratives, allowing for the system to be used by only a particular person. If someone else walked by it, it would not be activated. The example of the Ambient Orb as a product which allows for translating data into visual information (light) is also interesting. If light is employed in the Distant Narratives project, it could communicate information in the system.

paper 2

Senior residents’ perceived need of and preferences for “smart home” sensor technologies


International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care, 24:1 (2008)


This paper, authored by George Demiris at University of Washington and Brian K. Hensel, Marjorie Skubic, and Marilyn Rantz at University of Missouri-Columbia, is a presentation of a research project which studied how older adults interacted with a TigerPlace, a 34,000 square foot “smart home” facility in Columbia, Missouri. Fourteen adults over the age of 65 were included in the study to investigate the effectiveness of a technology equipped apartments home with bed sensors, gait monitors, stove sensors, motion sensors, and a video sensor. The aim of this use of technology was to improve safety and health monitoring.

Relevance to Distant Narratives Project

This project has some technologies in common with the Distant Narratives project; sensors are used in both projects, but the goals and design of the projects are very different. The relevance of this project to the Distant Narratives project is that it targets the same audience, older adults, and the use of surveys to gather input from this age group along with the gathering of feedback during the implementation of the project is important.

Specific Content of Interest for Distant Narratives Project

There are several times in the discussion of this research project where polling and gathering feedback from older adults as an age group and gathering of feedback from study participants is discussed. In the ‘Methods’ section (pg. 121) the basic setup of focus groups is discussed, along with the method of recruitment for study volunteers. In the ‘Results’ section (pg. 122), some of the feedback from participants is shared. The quotes included in this section give a sampling of the variety of feedback and concerns of older adults and reinforce the importance of gathering feedback, as the outcomes may not be consistent with researchers expectations. In a design project, this kind of feedback can be useful for further design iterations or inclusion in a paper. In the ‘Discussion’ section (pg. 123), the authors suggest further research directed by the feedback of the participants. This is important for the Distant Narratives project; to point to further research that may be useful from what is learned in the deployment of the project. There are some similar areas of research in the perceived control of the system. What is the balance of automated, embodied, and direct control through an interface? How transparent should the interface or sensors be?

paper 3



Social Indicators Research (2006) 77: 521–548


This paper, authored by Graeme Hawthorne discusses a study on the development of a measuring system he titles the Friendship Scale. He developed this system to act as a tool in measuring loneliness, isolation, and social connectedness. He suggests that the tool could be used by other researchers and practitioners in the areas of epidemiology, population surveys, and healthcare where quality of life is is evaluated.

Relevance to Distant Narratives Project

This paper and research are on a subject which is one of the issues addressed in the Distant Narratives project. The positive benefits of communication in relieving depression and loneliness in older adults is one of the central themes of the project. The paper discusses many factors in the development of isolation and it’s effects on health, especially for older adults (pg. 522). Other sources are referenced along with previously developed measuring systems for the same subject matter (pg. 526). The key theories in how a living situation, level of support, and childhood experiences effects stress and health are also discussed. (pg. 526)

Specific Content of Interest for Distant Narratives Project

The causes of isolation and results are interesting and useful for stating the usefulness of the Distant Narratives project. Of particular interest is the table of scores (Table III pgs. 535-36). Here the classification of groups by type of accommodation, work status, ability to socialize due to health status, satisfaction with health status, marital status, presence of depression, and type of living situation are very useful for thinking about types of groups for subjects to test the system and what variations within categories are good to incorporate if a variety of subjects is needed.

paper 4

Healthy Aging Preserving Function and Improving Quality of Life Among Older Americans

at a Glance (2008)




This publication is an overview of the current and projected future conditions for older adults related to health and economic issues. The projection and statistics describe a population in the United States which will increase in size dramatically by 2030 and impact the economy through the associated healthcare costs for the population age 65 and older. Several areas related to health can be addressed through preventive care and education. This document outlines ways to improve older American’s health and provides a short description of CDC initiatives aimed to address these issues.

Relevance to Distant Narratives Project

One of the areas for improvement identified in this paper is the treatment of depression. In the Distant Narrative project, one of the goals is to reduced symptoms of depression in older adults by facilitating communication in a unique, dynamic, and engaging system. There are also health concerns for the caregivers of older adults as described in this document. Anxiety, depression, use of drugs, adversely effected health, and increased mortality for the caregivers are all related to the stresses of caring for older adults. The Distant Narrative project can not only help relieve adverse psychological conditions in the older adults, but also the caregivers (family, friends) who use the system.

Specific Content of Interest for Distant Narratives Project

Initiatives the CDC is undertaking to address the health issues for older adults are outline at the end of this paper. Specific goals of the CDC Healthy Aging Program include the Healthy Aging Research Network: “Current HAN projects include reviewing evidence-based interventions for depression and emotional health and assessing public perceptions of cognitive health.” This coincides directly with goals of the Distant Narrative project in creating a system which can be a tool to alleviate depression through communication. HAN projects address cognitive health for older adults and caregivers which is consistent with goals of the Distant Narrative project.

paper 5

Does Distance Matter in the Age of the Internet? (January, 2008)


International Sunbelt Social Network Conference, St. Petersburg, FL


This paper by Diana Mok, Barry Wellman, and Juan-Antonio-Carrasco details a study they conducted to examine the use of three modes of communication: face to face interaction, phone (voice), and email correspondence. They compared results from data gathered in the community of East York , Toronto at two separate time periods, 1978 and current to the study publication (2008). Data was analyzed to examine the influence a more dense population center, a city, on these modes of communication. The researchers were interested in comparing results from the two time periods to examine how use of these communication modes has changed in the advent of the internet and electronic communication (e-mail).

Relevance to Distant Narratives Project

The data collected for the study and the results of analysis are useful for the Distant Narrative project in outlining the uses of communication and preferences of people for the three modes (face to face, phone, and email). The proximity of people one communicates with and the choice of communication mode are related and effect relationships. Understanding how these connections have changed from the 1970s to the 2000s is also of interest. The study provides insight through data analysis into how people communicate which may be different than popular assumptions. Because Distant Narrative is a project which facilitates communication, using studies to support modes of communication and interaction is important. The study discusses face to face communication, a mode of communication Distant Narratives builds on in a designed use of technologies which allow for projections and stimuli that are a recognition of the importance this kind of interaction provides to older adults, friends, and family who will use the system. The study also discusses habits of interaction in the three communication modes based on distance, and how this has changed from the 1970s to the 2000s. This information is useful to understand who could be users of the Distant Narratives project based on location and distance. Knowing how people communicate based on proximity, can help make decisions for educated decisions of deployment based on data.

Specific Content of Interest for Distant Narratives Project

Some of the analysis of research in the paper describe conclusions which are specifically useful for the project. For example, the importance in face to face interactions in driving overall communication in the 1970s data is discussed. “Phoning and visiting are intertwined – with calls used to sustain contact in-between meetings and to arrange future meetings.” (pg. 5) People to did not maintain more contact with connections at a larger distance (100 miles) because of the invention of the telephone. This trend continues to modern times with the advent of the internet and e-mail communication. There may be more modes of communication, but this communication serves to strengthen local ties: “European and Thai studies have found that the type of relationship is associated with residential distance: the more important and stronger ties tend to live closer to one another (Axhausen, Urry and Larsen, 2007; Faust, et al., 2000).” The study notes that overall communication has diminished with the introduction of e-mail, but that the use of e-mail follows habits based on distance that were present before. “Frequent email contact with active friends and relatives is associated with frequent telephone and face-to-face contact. Rather than replacing other forms of contact, email intertwines with them in maintaining ties and arranging face-to-face visits and phone chats (Green, 2002; McIntosh and Harwood, 2002; Boase, et al., 2006; Wellman and Hogan, et al. 2006; Curtice and Norris, 2007; Stern and

Messer, 2008). If someone moves to another city, there is likely to be a modal shift, with email being used more extensively to maintain the tie. Yet, face-to-face and phone contact are relied on more for developing relationships (Hampton and Wellman, 2002, 2003; Shklovski, Kraut and Cummings 2008).” These findings reinforce the importance of face to face communication. The Distant Narrative project employs sensors, stimuli, and visual feedback which combines to create an experience which creates a virtual interaction similar to a face to face contact. With the ability to create this type of experience, it would be interesting to see if this causes a change in the frequency of longer distance communication, and how it aids the communication of older adults with friend and family at a variety of distances (local, long distance, and medium).

paper 6

Older people, technology and design – A socio-technical approach

from (May, 2006, Vol 5., No. 1)


This paper by Petr Bagnall, Victor Onditi, Mark Rouncefield, and Ian Sommerville at the Computing Department, Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom, presents a discussion of design considerations to be made when employing technology to be used by older adults. Social norms and expectations of this age group are discussed along with the effectiveness of current technologies. Usability design issues for older adults is discussed along with games as a vehicle for social interaction.

Relevance to Distant Narratives Project

This paper is a discussion of technology in design for older adults and important factors in designing for this age group. Because the Distant Narrative project is designed for use by this age group along with friends and family, the findings and discussion in the paper are relevant to the project.

Specific Content of Interest for Distant Narratives Project

In the research of communication with other people in the same locality, the authors found that there were “activity patterns” that informed how to approach designing the interaction for a project. “Participants felt they did not want to bother their friends unless the visit was a planned event, and even having visitors required a great deal of preparation, making sure they looked their best, in some cases even when receiving family.” This finding helps to inform the design of Distant Narratives and creates a sensitivity to the mindset of older adults and how they might use the system. The authors also discovered there a certain times of day when older adults prefer to communicate.

Designing for user interface is discussed in the paper:

PDA screens are too small to be comfortable to read, and laptops suffer from the same issues of keyboard and pointing device as desktop machines, only more severely. Table PCs , however, by using stylus input, can avoid all these problems, and when participants were given some Tablets to try their response was much more positive. Stylus input w as less awkward since it is similar to us ing a pen. While the shape of the stylus is less than ideal, it proved to be usable by all the participants who tried it. Many participants tried to press on-screen buttons with their fingers though, until they were told the stylus had to be used. Unfortunately hardware that supports both touch and stylus input, and can tell them apart, doe s not exist, but if it did it could be an advantage.” (pg. 47).

This discussion reinforces the advantages of a system of sensors and non-traditional feedback to user interaction employed in the Distant Narratives project; interactions that do not rely on the kind of devices and inputs which older adults have difficulty using.

Another relevant point, is the observation that ease of use and simplicity is key to a system designed for older adults. (pg. 48)

paper 7

ECHOES: Encouraging Companionship, Home Organization, and Entertainment in Seniors


CHI 2005 | Student Design Competition, April 2-7 | Portland, Oregon, USA


This paper by Justin Donaldson, Joshua Evnin, Sidharth Saxena in Human-Computer Interaction Design, at the School of Informatics, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, presents a project designed for older adults which incorporates a unique tangible objects with user interface allowing for interactive use of media in various scenarios, including games, in forming connections to companions. Research into the psychological issues of older adults who have lost companions, related to depression and sense of self are discussed in relation to the project itself and how it aims to address these concerns. The development of the TeleTable and Pitara are discussed: the structure of testing, technology involved, usage scenarios, and testing.

Relevance to Distant Narratives Project

Several aspects of this project are relevant to Distant Narratives. First, the TeleTable and Pitara are unique tangible objects incorporating technology in a way that is not obvious. Distant Narratives is a larger installation which also incorporates technology in a way that is not apparent to the user. The focus is on the interaction and the experience in both projects. Both projects have the goal of facilitating communication in older adults with others and establishing or re-establishing a sense of connection to family or friends, thereby ameliorating depression and other psychological issues that arise from isolation and disconnection. The design process used in the ECHOES project may be useful to guide some aspects of the design, testing, feedback loop in Distant Narratives because both projects are unique implementations and involve older adults using this new system in conjunction with their family or friends.

Specific Content of Interest for Distant Narratives Project

In the discussion of user scenarios (pg. 2087), the authors describe one example of an older adult subject using the TeleTable and Pitara. This style of describing usage is a good example that could be used for a similar section in a paper describing the Distant Narratives project. In the Conclusion section of the paper, the authors state, “the high level of variance in physical and mental capabilities makes seniors one of the most difficult groups to design for. However, the potential for substantial improvement in the creation and maintenance of meaningful companionships in this age group is very real.” These goals are similar to the Distant Narrative project. The overall outcome of the ECHOES project is supportive to the the aims of Distant Narratives and shows that one-of-a-kind interactive design projects like are worthwhile. In the same section, the authors go on to state, “By encouraging deeper casual social interactions through games and sharing of personal memories and their tangible artifacts the TeleTable and Pitara can bring about emotional engagement, thereby encouraging and strengthening human-human companionship.” Although the projects are different in the type and design of the interaction, there are similarities in the development of a physical, tangible system built some similar social and psychological research areas.

paper 8

Connected Lives: The Project


Chapter 8 in Networked Neighborhoods, edited by Patrick Purcell. Berlin: Springer, 2005


This paper is authored by Barry Wellman and Bernie Hogan and Kristen Berg, Jeffrey Boase, Juan-Antonio Carrasco, Rochelle Côté, Jennifer Kayahara, Tracy L. M. Kennedy and Phuoc Tran. It focuses on research into information and communication technologies (ICT) and how their use effects social behavior in communities as well as how the reverse, social behavior effects the use of ICT. The research and observations are and outcome of the ‘Connected Lives’ project conducted in the neighborhood of East York, Toronto, Canada.

Relevance to Distant Narratives Project

The Connected Lives project is a result of inquiries into the nature of changing social habits due to the introduction of the internet into a high density of homes. The authors note that with the advent of the internet, there has been a decrease in personal group orientated activities with an increase of networked connections over distance. Although this paper is focused on use of the internet, it’s description of data gathering and organization is relevant to Distant Narratives because there is a common theme of understanding patterns of behavior in regards to modern communication.

Specific Content of Interest for Distant Narratives Project

Methods use to recruit individuals for the study may provide some ideas for finding test subjects in the Distant Narratives project. In the footnote at the bottom of page 6 in the paper, the authors describe the creation of a website and survey package including letters, in-person follow-up and gift certificates to promote completion of surveys. Although Distant Narratives may not need the same exact items to communicate with subjects, there may be some similar techniques that could be employed. Information in this study included time of day computers were used, number of computers in the household, and location of computers in the household (pgs 13-14). Although the information collected is in regards to computer usage, similar types of categories or surveys of information about users of Distant Narratives may help to create an understanding on how users currently have technology deployed in their home which may inform where and how the Distant Narratives system could be implemented in the home setting. Other information collected in this study surrounded the ways in which computers were used and for what purposes (pg. 16, pg. 19). Again, these kinds of information could be useful to survey in Distant Narratives subjects to help understand their overall background in using technology and how they use it. There is also a useful listing of different categories of human connections (pg. 20) which is a good reference in how a older adult’s circle of connections could also be delineated.

updated Mind Map for Distant Narratives

version 1.1 of Mind Map for Distant Narratives, updated topic areas

First Version of Mind Map for Distant Narratives Project

Mind Jet file (ctrl-select / save as to download file)

jpeg image of mind map