Developing a Multimodal Entertainment Tool with Intuitive Navigation, Hands-Free Control, and Avatar Features, to Increase User Interactivity; Responsibility of Social Media Companies for User Wellbeing

Gayle, Caton, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Gerling, Gregory, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia
Ferguson, Sean, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The following STS and technical theses pertain to the impacts digital experiences can have on their users. Digital entertainment experiences have become a major component of how individuals spend a significant portion of their free time, leading to significant influences on peoples’ lives. The technical thesis involves the development of a novel digital experience that emphasizes active engagement during a typically passive activity. This technical topic is loosely related to the STS topic as they are both focused on how digital experiences impact the user, with the STS thesis focusing on how online experiences affect user’s well-being and the technical thesis focusing on developing new software with positive user influences.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have developed into key sources of networking, news, and entertainment for many individuals across the world. There has been an increase in studies focusing on the effect that social media has in various areas, with the spread of misinformation being one of the most prominent. My STS thesis is an extension of these studies, focusing on how social media can affect the mental well-being of its users and how the scale of social media as an inherently political technology stagnates its ability to ensure mental well-being.

In the past decade, movie and TV streaming services such as Netflix and HULU have grown in scale and popularity to the point of being many people’s go-to forms of in-home entertainment. Despite a variety of different platforms and content, the general format of these experiences is largely the same: simply sit and watch. My technical thesis aims to maintain how streaming services can be a key component of home entertainment while expanding how people engage with them beyond a passive experience. The main goals of the project were met in terms of creating an entertainment service with active engagement that was popular with user test groups. A major takeaway from the project was that this kind of experience was popular with users yet largely unavailable in current commercial services and that active-engagement entertainment is a viable direction for industry growth.

The STS and technical theses have led to valuable insights into the various impacts seemingly innocuous digital experiences can have. The STS thesis was a preliminary step into a discussion of how to analyze and protect users from the effects of digitization while the technical thesis focused on developing a system that avoided the issues discussed in the STS topic. Continuation of this research could pertain to analyzing how social media use affects users’ actions or beliefs, furthering the general research topic of social media’s impacts on individuals.

I would like to express my gratitude to both Sean Ferguson and Gregory Gerling who have been valuable advisors throughout the process of research development ad refinement.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
user experience design; multimodal; interactivity; usability

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering

Technical Advisor: Gregory Gerling

STS Advisor: Sean Ferguson

Technical Team Members: Nathaniel Barrington, Erin Hensien, Grace Ko, Megan Lin, Saimanga Palnati

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