Ageing With Technology – An Extended Multimodal Design Study of Active Ageing Users’ Emotional Experience With Social Robots

Moradi, Parisa
Hunting, Amabel
Sosa, Ricardo
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This research explores the experience of advanced technology for active ageing users through their extended engagement with a social robot as a subcategory of smart products. In this project, such influences include the capacity of technology to affect the social, behavioural and emotional aspects of users’ daily lives. Advanced technologies such as smart products, artificial intelligence (AI), and ubiquitous computing are increasingly influencing contemporary life. Their complex nature has brought new challenges and opportunities for users, especially the older generations, since the capabilities to adapt to new complex technologies can be perceived as more challenging by ageing users accustomed to earlier systems. This research aimed to develop insights and reflections on active ageing users’ lived experiences and interactions with technology to inform future design and research practices in this area.

Influenced by ontological realism and social constructionism, this research applied an extended user study to interpret the lived experience of active ageing users with technology in natural settings. The study gathered evidence on the affective dimensions of the user experience of interacting with advanced technologies beyond controlled lab environments that capture only snapshots of the overall experience. I used three data collection stages, consisting of two rounds of interviews, two familiarising and demonstration sessions, and an extended user experience of 15 participants interacting with a social robot in their home environments. The result was a robust data collection system, starting with understanding users’ lived experiences with smart products and including users’ extended interactions. I used reflexive thematic analysis to analyse and interpret users’ social-physical experiences.

The findings from this research identified mixed emotional experiences, from fascination to wariness about advanced technology and its influence on participants’ lives. My research recognised active ageing users’ interaction with technology as a coevolutionary process in which both parties influence each other. The study observed six areas that contributed to how participants perceived interactivity of human-technology experiences – learnability, familiarity, responsivity, tangibility, playfulness, and novelty. Furthermore, my findings indicated that data privacy and security were not perceived as significant issues for most participants. However, the analysis revealed strong views on companionship in the current digital era, including a desire to differentiate between organic and non-organic interactions. Participants considered companionship a fundamental human quality and were concerned with technology replacing human relationships.

This research concludes that designers need to step away from the stereotypical views on active ageing users’ interaction with technology that are only limited to design for accessibility and usability. My analysis recognises active ageing users as a diverse, knowledgeable and reflective demographic who have experienced some of the most disruptive technological changes in recent history. The results suggest that design practices need to account for social and subjective experiences rather than focusing only on users’ emotional ratings of the experience. Similarly, my research presents a critical analysis of companion technologies. It recommends design practices to avoid generalising what ‘companionship’ means to all users. The study urges designers to spend time and effort understanding and unpacking what companionship means to users of technologies. My research proposes design practices to move beyond human-centred approaches and see the interaction as a coevolutionary process between the users, their environment and the technology.

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