Digi-bit: Forming tacit habits through interactions with a virtual creature

Emi is a Tokyo-born digital product designer, currently based in New York. She is fascinated by the future of technology and its potential to do good in the world.
Thesis Faculty
Harpreet Sareen
Loretta Wolozin
David Carroll
Chris Prentice

Digi-bit is a desktop application that strives to compel human emotion and drive human behavior by developing a relationship with a virtual creature to help players build positive physiological micro habits that help fulfill their basic and tacit human needs. The primary approach is that by investing in a personal relationship with the Digi-bit, the user builds growing reservoirs of intrinsic motivation to assist with the Digi-bit’s wellbeing, in turn fulfilling their own fundamental needs, providing impetus for a self-sustaining cycle. This accumulation of successful experiences or tacit knowledge is what fuels or sustains this repetitive behavior.

Individuals are increasingly reporting extended periods of emotional, mental, and physical fatigue from engaging in rising amounts of screen-based activities. The situation seems to have been exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced a workplace transition from a physically centric environment to a primarily digitally facilitated world. The negative transitional implications include experiencing bouts of physical ailments like eye strain, stiff neck, back pain, along with mental fatigue that leads to a decline in productivity and mental acuity over time. Upon deeper investigation, it appears that the fundamental and underlying cause of this emerging distress is the growing disconnect between people’s psychological awareness and their tacit physiological needs (e.g., infrequent breathing, blinking, stretching, etc.).

With the deployment of co-design sessions and acquiring relevant and pointed feedback from different user perspectives, the goal is to continuously sharpen the efficacy and design approach of the Digi-bit prototype with every iteration.

The interaction with the virtual creature can be broken down into three major categories based on the level of effort and time commitment required. The first category, defined as “Low Effort Actions”, is a series of actions that can be made with a minimal time commitment and require relatively low cognitive and physical effort.

The second category is defined as medium commitment actions that constitute the practice of the “20-20-20 eye rule” where every 20 minutes the user spends on a screen, the application prompts them to look at something that is 20 feet away, for a total of 20 seconds.

The third or more advanced category is defined as a set of high commitment actions that require the completion of 60-second deep breathing exercises at regular intervals during the course of the day.

The end-goal is to subtly imbue these constructive habits into the subconscious of the user so that over time they can be drawn out naturally with minimal resistance while allowing the user to be aware of their tacit yet important functional desires. This paper aims to describe the rationale behind Digi-bit's development, an overview of the initial prototype and highlights the key learnings throughout the early stages of the prototype. Future work includes further studies involving the addition of more participants, the development of the stress management application and conducting additional user studies where prototypes are more frequently and seamlessly integrated into individual’s daily activities.