A journey through a Hackathon and a Chrome Extension
In May 2018, me and four of my friends decided to participate in a hackathon called HackForGood in Porto, Portugal. It is an annual hackathon organized by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation that focuses on developing technological solutions for social good. The participants have 28 hours to develop a prototype that best represents the solution to whichever challenge they picked.
The challenges were grouped by themes and our team decided to tackle ‘Children and Youth Well Being’.
Understanding the effects of digital culture on children
The proliferation of digital media and the ease of availability of digital devices has led to the phenomena of Internet addiction, which is particularly worrying among children.
Our primary research consisted of us talking to parents present in the venue. We asked them about their digital habits, rules they have in their homes to regulate digital content consumption, the change they see in their children due to technology. We got to know the following:
- Children spent atleast a few hours everyday using digital devices.
- On being asked to put devices away, children usually exhibited anger and frustration.
- They also felt that children were spending less time with them and slowly growing apart.
Our secondary research, backed by articles and scientific reports on the subject of internet addiction and its effects, gave us insight into the adverse effects of cyber addiction among children. Our findings were chiefly as follows:
- Passive consumption of social media content — as opposed to active communication — has been associated with a decrease in bonding and bridging social capital and increase in loneliness.
- Almost all cyber addicts suffer from mental illnesses of one or the other, it’s never an isolated problem.
- Overall, it is the younger age groups who are most guilty of sharing potentially valuable and exploitable information online, making it all the more important for parents to educate and control their children’s Internet usage from an early age.
- We came across this interesting insight from a report by Kaspersky on Impact of Internet Dependence on Children, which said “ The research found that Internet-dependent children are more likely to have Internet-dependent parents. Indeed, 62% of the parents surveyed, who qualified as dependent, had dependent children. This compares to only 32% of the non-dependent parents surveyed.”
Internet dependent parents lead to Internet dependent children
This was significant because it gave us perspective into the mindset of a young child whose cyber dependence, among other things, also stems from his/her parent’s Internet addiction.
Our research provided provided us various opportunities, but in order to better define and frame the problem, we decided to the come up with questions that would allow the team to be aligned around one challenge to tackle while exploring various possibilities.
We decided to frame the problem as follows:
How might we help families shape a healthy digital culture in their homes?
Developing a culture of healthy digital awareness in homes
In order to achieve a healthy digital culture in the households, we set out to develop an idea, based on prior research and mentor feedback, whose main tenets would be the following :
- Create an incentivised system based on accountability rather than on hierarchy: Parents need to lead by example. Instead of parents reprimanding their children, we wanted to remove the hierarchical system inside the family and make all the members equally accountable for their digital consumption habits.
- Increase Transparency: Every family needs to have a transparent culture with regards to digital content consumption. Each member in the family should know how much time everyone else is allowed to spend with digital devices.
- Minor punishments: Harsh punishments never serve their true purpose. In order to change a habit, we need to introduce small, minor penalties so that the individual doesn’t feel disrespected and repulsed.
Honor codes for the family
Whenever we hear an honor codes system, we understand that it is probably a set of rules, supposed to be followed by everyone in the community.
We defined that each family should have its own honor code system. Instead of calling them rules, we called them Promises that each individual makes to the entire family. Everyone would be able to view others promises. Each individual would get rewards on upholding their promises like ordering pizza for dinner. On the other hand, on failing to abide by them, the individual will face a minor penalty. Penalties would be like
- The decrease in Internet speeds of the individual
- Auto-translation of text on the individual’s web page to a different language.
The goal is not just to keep everyone on the same page but to increase accountability, transparency, and awareness about cyber dependency.
Final Solution — The Promises App
We iterated over wireframes and came up with the following prototype. We conducted guerilla testing inside the building with parents and showed them our prototype. Most of them were surprised by the insight that their digital usage could affect their children’s usage too. If nothing else, we were glad that the prototype helped increase awareness.
The high fidelity screens were created by myself and João Araújo.
Our team also featured in the Portuguese media.