Nowadays, Long-Distance Relationships (LDRs) are increasingly popular and ubiquitous because of multiple reasons like work, career, education and parents care, all can contribute to the separation of partners. Compared to geographic close relationships (GCR), it seems LDRs face many challenges because of the separation of physical distances, difficulties in communication, time zone difference, temptations from others, and lack of physical engagement, etc. But thanks to the rapid development of computer mediated communication (CMC), people nowadays have multiple channels to interact and communicate with their remoted partner, like text, voice, images, video chatting, and many online social platforms provide diverse channel for the partners who were involved in LDRs, this thesis will explore how can online social platforms better maintain and support the LDRs. In addition, we all know that currently the dreaded Covid-19 virus swept the world and has isolated millions of people include family members, friends, and lovers, it seems people need to get support and maintain connection with others now more than ever, this make my thesis more valuable.
“Statistics showed that about 14 to 15 million people in the United States considered themselves in a long distance relationship (in 2005). Updated 2019, 14 million couples define themselves as a having a long distance relationship and 3.75 million married couples are in a long distance relationship in the US alone (Anonymity, “Long Distance Relationship Statistics 2019”).” The reasons they have to live far away are varied, for example, young couple transmission from high school to college, husband conduct military assignments or wife need to work abroad.
Thanks to the advent of the Internet, our ways of communicating have become more easy and diversified. Especially in recent years, various kinds of social networking software have emerged in an endless flow. This includes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat, Skype, etc. These new programs have rapidly changed the way people communicate and interact, and it seems modern long-distance romantic relationship more easy to maintain with help of these online software, you can connect with your partner in just a few seconds with the swipe of a finger. The prevalence of computer mediated communication is especially relevant in 2020 with the spread of coronavirus. Across the world people have to stay at home and keep their distance. This is especially hard for people who have been quarantined away from their lovers. At this time it seems more people have to rely on online chatting software to communicate with their partner in a long-distance romantic relationship.
But it really make things better? “Statistics show that 40% of long distance relationships don't make it” (Kim, “Long Distance Relationship Statistics May Surprise You”). “A 2010 German study found that the average length of a long-distance relationship was 2.9 years, less than half the length of a proximal relationship, 7.3 years” (Smith, “9 Real Statistics About Long-Distance Relationships”). “In fact, the average LDR breaks up after just 4.5 months. Going from a close relationship to long distance requires quite a bit of work. There's a lot of give and take that not everyone can offer” (Kim, “Long Distance Relationship Statistics May Surprise You”). So we can see that the simple chatting software maybe hard to fix the problems generated by long-distance relationships.
PROBLEM AS IT PERTAINS TO SELF-DISCOLSURE
In Close Relationships, author Pamela Regan (2011) introduces core components of strong intimate relationships. A major factor is self-disclosure: “Individuals will get closer and more committed to each other as they increase both the depth (the extent to which the disclosed information is intimate or personal, emotional, and detailed) and breadth (the variety of dimensions about which information is revealed) of their self-disclosure” (Regan 94). A partner’s responsiveness to self-disclosure is another important factor: “attentive, supportive responses that leave the partner feeling validated, understood, cared for” (Regan 94).
Yet, online connections lose many of details of real-world interactions, which can include nonverbal behavior such as facial expressions include smiling, laughing, eye contacting, frowning, pouting and body language like touching, hair smoothing, head nodding, and feeling about physical distance, tone and volume of voice (Regan 95). Together with verbal language, these factors contribute to a full understanding of what you partner’s want to express and their real intention and feeling. Difficulty transmitting non-verbal through online platforms, can make it hard to communicate (self-disclosure) and fully understand and respond to what your partner is saying (responsiveness to self-disclosure), major factors in strong intimate relationships.
PROBLEM AS IT PERTAINS TO CARE
Further, when partner need support, there are two main ways they can use for seeking support from their partner, one is direct support-seeking behaviors, which involving verbally directly asking for help. Another one is indirect support-seeking behaviors, which involving verbally or nonverbally asking for help (Regan 155). “Indirect verbal tactics for activating caregiving include complaining about a situation or hinting that a problem exists without directly requesting assistance from the partner; indirect nonverbal strategies include subtly displaying negative affect or personal distress by sighing, sulking, or fidgeting (Regan 155).” As we can see if person who prefer use indirect nonverbal strategies to express their pressure and need to their partner, in the light of limit of online communication, their partner maybe very hard to receive the messages. For example, we all know that introversive partner tend to express their feeling with a less verbal behavior than extroversive people, plus in the online settings nonverbal behaviors are not easily perceived. And the people who possess insecure attachment pattern prefer to communicate their feeling and reveal their thoughts to their partner in an inefficient and indirect way (Regan 148). Consequently, the people who possess this two characteristics, their partner’s response will not very promptly or strongly which can cause a relationship crises or unsuccessfully maintain a healthy relationships.
How can online platforms better support self-disclosure and care in long-distance romantic relationships?
The purpose of this survey is try to understand how partners increase self-disclosure and care with each other in a long-distance romantic relationship versus in an in person romantic relationship. I want to find out what were the most meaningful and helpful things to build a strong romantic relationship. And find out what I may have missed or forgotten. In addition, I also try to identify and understand what online platforms do a good job supporting self-disclosure/care and which don’t, and why. So we can look at which features are especially helpful.
In the survey, first part of survey are focus on the questions that can make me better understand what features of online platform do a good job to support the self-disclosure and care. Second part of survey are mainly focus on questions that can make me better understand how partners increase self-disclosure and care with each other in a long-distance romantic relationship versus in an in person romantic relationship.
I received totally 67 responses, 62 responses are seen as valid responses (The respondents’ answer are not relevent to the question or answer is blank will be counted invalid). Most of participants are female, and most of participants’ age are between 18-30. 63% of participants were separated with their partner in different city, rest of participants were separated with their partner in different country. More than half of participants said they have separated with their partner between 7 months-24 months, and 12 participants have separated with their partner between 24 months – 5 years. The data show that most of participants see their partner in-person once every 2-6 months, there 7 participants said they meet their partner face-to-face once every 12 months or above.
Finding 1 – Different features of online communication platform:
From the first part of the survey, I learn more about the what features of online communication platform can better support self-disclosure and care, and what is most popular software used in a long-distance romantic relationship, and how often do long distance partners use different online platforms to communicate.
In the Figure 1 we can see that Wechat and Facetime are two most popular software used in a long-distance romantic relationship. This two software all support the video chatting, and in the Figure 2 we also find the importance of video channel. We can see the best online communication feature that can encourage you to express your thoughts, feeling and care to your long-distance partner is video. If one respondent mentions the channel Skype, Facetime, iMessage, I will count 1 x Video and 1 x Text (Figure 2). This question is very important, because one people expressing his or her inner thoughts and feeling can be seen he or she conduct the self-disclosure to his or her partner, and self-disclosure is an important factor that can influence relationship satisfaction, so understand which online feature can better conduct self-disclosure and care can help understand how can we better improve the Long-Distance relationship satisfaction.
In the Figure 3 we can see the most frequently used online communication feature is text channel, following by video channel. The 57 out of 62 participants in the survey also said they communicate everyday, and some participants give the communication pattern, they usually sending text throughout all day, only video chat in the evening (Figure 4). And here are some specific resoponds from participants: “Text doesn’t allow you to actually give the tone of voice in which you are speaking and sometimes it’s not realistic to facetime.” “Sometimes texts get tricky or they can’t FaceTime because they are busy or you are busy.” “It’s hard to find a time for both of us to talk on the phone.” So from these information we can find this unique pattern among participants which is most of them text throughout all day and only video in the evening, they like video and sometimes they use text instead of video just because of busy or text is convenience.
Finding2 – online and offline communication in a long-distance romantic relationship: From second part of survey, I learn more about the what is the most hard part of online communication and what is the favorite part of face-to-face communication, and what cause online communication hard or easy, and why.
In the survey most of participants said that their favorite part of offline communication is physical contact include sex, kiss, hug. And 18 participants mentioned well communication include body language, facial expression, eye contact, easy to understand emotions is their favorite part. 17 participants mentioned companionships is important in offline communication, which include watch movie together, eat dinner together, walk together (Figure 5).
When it comes to question what is the hard part of online communication, the most of participants said online communication is difficult, the reason include lack of body language, facial expression, eye contact, etc (Figure 6). Following the time difference, no physical contact, and technical issues. There are some participants give some detailed and interesting answer like: “misunderstanding the tone of texts.” “doesn't feel real sometimes.” “Sometimes it’s difficult to feel connected and I miss being in the same space as him.”
Communication difficulties is very harmful to the communication satisfaction and relationship satisfaction, and I think online communication difficulties also reduce the conduction of self-disclosure online. In the survey, 45 out of 62 participants express they feel conduct self-disclosure online is hard, the main reason for that is because they feel lack of body language, facial expression and tone. And 5 participants mentioned another reason is that they can’t perceive and express emotions. 5 participants also mentioned that lack of physical contact is the reason they feel hard to conduct self-disclosure online. 4 participants mentioned misunderstanding, 3 mentioned time difference (Figure 7). Here is the some interesting answer in this question I found from the participants: “Harder, I didn’t want the first time I expressed deeper emotions to be over a phone. It felt like it needed to be in person, and I have to wait.” “Harder, because we can’t see each other or comfort each other and body language is super important when we communicate.” “Harder because you can't physically express anything so it has to be all with words. And sometimes taking the effort to bring up your emotions over text or facetime can seem like overkill especially if it is something small. Whereas in person you are likely to bring up something small, talk about it for a little, and then let it go.”
In the survey most of participants show they don’t worry about their partners’ delay in reply (Figure 8). I have a close look at two participants who feel very upset when their partners reply delay, I found one participant have separated with partner for 4 years, she said:“ we connect daily and nightly. Sometimes I wish we could talk more but I am happy I can talk to him as much as I am able to talk with him.” She use snapchat and zoom to communicate with partner. She very miss she can be in the same space with her partner.
From first part of survey - Finding 1 (Different features of online communication platform): we found the most popular software is WeChat ( support video chatting) and Facetime, we also know from the survey that best channel can support self-disclosure and care is video, it seems like that platforms equipped with video chatting feature can do a good job to supporting self-disclosure and care. We also find that most people text all the time throughout the day, only video chat in the evening. Don‘t they like videos? No, according to the answers from participants, their favorite channel is video, so Why? According to the some participants’ answer we can know because text is easy to send throughout the day, but video are not as convenience as text. So although everyone likes the video channel, the availability of video is limited.
From second part of survey - Finding 2 (online and offline communication in a long-distance romantic relationship): we found the most of participants think the favorite part of offline communication is that they can have physical contact, can see body language, facial expressions, tone, and feel a sense of companionship. And most of participants said the hardest part of online communication is lack of body language, facial expressions, eye contact, hard to perceive emotional change, and time difference. Most of participants show no worry to the reply in delay.
Considering most of participants like video channel, but most of them use text more frequently, we can develop a design intervention that can have both video and text channel’s advantages, and at same time try to avoid the weakness of video and text channel. Also considering 45 out of 62 people feel hard to conduct self-disclosure online, and the biggest reason is lacking of body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. The design intervention should consider these features first.
I try to create a App that can 3D scan real partner, and then App can create a virtual avatar that looks like you, you can set different behavior, facial expression, body language, and add you voice in the virtual avatar, and then send this to your partner just like you send text. When partner receive this AR message, he or she can just simply open it, just like check a normal text message from iMessage or Facebook Messenger, and put his or her partner’s virtual avatar into the real world surround you, and see what will happened. (what will happen depends on what your partner set)
This App mixed the advantages of Video and Text format, and avoid the big shortcomings of Video and Text Format. The AR message can help you to see the facial expression, body language and most important you can feel presence of you partner in your surroundings, deepen the sense of presence, provide companionship. It is also great for partners in different time zone and give partners bigger freedom with their different schedule. And most important, you can send AR message anytime anywhere, it is super easy to use and convenient for different occasions!!! And at same time, it also include so many important detail like facial expression, body language, tone, and feel a sense of presence of your partner in your surroundings.
User can use URreal to sending and receiving the AR message, just like they sending and receiving a text message, and also can send letters to others, these functions could better support and encourage people who involved in Long-Distance Romantic Relationships to conduct self-disclosure and care to their partner.
User journey for AR message and letter.
User journey for AR message and letter
There are 5 main sections in this User Flows: AR Message, Letter, Moments, Personal HomePage, and Contacts List.
This App have two version, one is for mobile phone, another version is for AR glasses. When you click this little glasses icon (Figure 1) in the App you can switch between two versions.
The first thing you should do after you log in to the app is to create a virtual avatar of youself (Figure 2). Then selecting your gender and basic information of youself, finally, upload your head photo or take a head shot to create your own virtual avatar (Figure 3).
After you upload your head photo, the system will automatically generate a virtual avatar based on the information you provided, then you can choose to adjust your hair style, clothes, etc (Figure 4).
Chat list page: in the top left is your peronal homepage, in the top center of the page is the URreal App icon that leads to the Virtual Avatar creation page, in the top right is the switch button which can switch between mobile phone version and AR Glasses version. There are 3 sections in the bottom, they are Chat, Contacts, and Moments.(Figure 5).
On the chat page, you can send your virtual avatar to others, and it is just as simple as sending a video or picture. Frist you need to click the little icon in the bottom right of the chat page (Figure 6), and it will lead you to the avatar creation page, you can add behaviour, voice, sound, music to the virtual avatar, and you can alter the hair style and clothes of the virtual avatar, and then send to your partner or friends.
When you click the scan button, you can scan your body behaviour, and then you can upload your unique poses or gesture to the APP, next you can add this unique poses or gesture to your virtual avatar, which can resonate with your partner (Figure 7).
Shopping Center is a place where user can upload and download body behavior, gesture, and poses. Plus there will be clothes and decoration for user to select (Figure 8).
In the behavior page, user can add different facial expressions and body behavior to the virtual avatar. Emoji are popular because it can replace the missing facial expression in some communication channel. Here we can use real avatar to express different facial expressions. There are also multiple body behavior can be selected by the user. For example, we can click the dance button in the page (Figure 9).
After clicking the dance button and back to the main page of avatar creation page, we can click send button, then this AR message will show in the chat page (Figure 10).
After your partner or friends click the AR message, App would require you to find a flat space, and then you can put the virtual avatar in the surrounding space (Figure 11).
Video show how the virtual avatar work.
AR Message combine the advantages of video channel:
From the 62 participants responds and the literature review,
we know the most popular and most helpful channel that can
encourage partners to self-disclosure is video, due to the
reason that video channel provide much more richful
information like facial expression, body languages, and tone
than other channels. With help of AR Message, people not
only can experience these richful information in 2D screen,
but also can put their partner‘s virtual avatar into the real
world surround the user.
AR Message avoid the disadvantages of video channel:
Video chatting need both partner have common time,
partners who live in different time zone or have different
time schedule is hard to connect and communicate in video
channel. And video chattingl also need a private space. AR
Message can send anytime and at anywhere, because it is
asynchronized like sending text, but it have more information
AR Message combine the advantages of text channel:
From the 62 participants responds and the literature
review, we know the most frequent used and
convenient channel is text, the advantages of text are
that you can send text anytime and anywhere. You
don‘t need private places, you don’t need too much
time, you don‘t need timely reply, and you don’t need
common time. You can eat it as a snack at any time
throughout the day.
AR Message avoid the disadvantages of text channel:
The disadvantages of the text are that although
sending text is very convenient, but it lacks all the
features of face-to-face communication, no audio and
video input, no expression and body language, etc.
Janning et al. found “it may be that
people assign a particular romantic
meaningfulness to paper
communication formats precisely
because they are dwindling in
frequency of use, their rarity may
enhance their definition as sacred,
special, and therefore more
meaningful” And another feature of
paper format is the inefficiency, but
precisely because of this delay and
inefficiency it may be more
meaningful in some respects like
love letters, because it requires
deliberation and patience.
In the chat page we can click the Plus button and click the envelope icon to open the Letter function (Figure 12).
In the letter page you can write a letter to him
or her and tell him or her
something on the inside. After
the letter is sent, the recipient
will be alerted but will not
receive the letter
immediately. A week later,
she or he will be able to open
the letter. Sometimes we want to keep
our words to ourselves,
sometimes we want to find
a place to write down, and
sometimes time gives words
their power.(Figure 13).
Moments is a place where we
can browse our friends post. The post include picture, video, text, and of course the AR Message (Figure 14).
If people can show their relationship status to public,
like setting as “single”, “in a relationship”, etc., or post
the intimate photos on platform, then partners can
restate and strengthen their relationship in front of
their families and friends, and it can prevent infidelity
and intimacy demands from others, it is also a good
way to creating a sense of security in LDRs.
You can change the relationship status and upload your AR Message, video, picture in the personal homepage (Figure 15,16).
First Focus Group
The first focus group was held on December 28, 2020: four people participated in the first focus group.
Two participants are very interested in the letter function, because the delivery time of the letter function is based on the geographic location of you and your couple. For example, if you are in Syracuse and your partner is in New York, this virtual e-mail is sent by the sender It may take up to 2 days for the recipient to open the letter. If one person is in China and the other is in the United States, it may take a week for the recipient to open the letter. Participants also mentioned that there are multiple functions that can be added to the letter. One participant considers adding an additional function. For example, if people use the AR message function more, it can help shorten the delivery time of the letter. Another participant mentioned that you can add voice and music to the letter to enhance the atmosphere. Another participant said that you can integrate the letter function into the page of your own virtual character, and use the AR function so that when you open the message of the letter, a virtual mailbox will appear at home, and then when you approach that virtual mailbox, a Large envelopes will appear.
Participants feel that the virtual avatar function is relatively new, but it can be further improved. Participants think it is a bit too complicated and time-consuming. Participants hope that this function can be more convenient and save time. They hope that the editing interface and sending interface are as easy to use as possible, so that it is convenient to edit the content in a busy and tense state with the least time and Convey the most level of information. Participants mentioned that people like to mix emoji in short messages, they can consider combining virtual avatar with custom emoji, and integrating the emoji function with the letter function to make it interactive.
One participant said that some AR and VR related functions can be created on Moments and personal homepage. For example, users can share 360-degree couple photos or 360-degree videos in Moments page or personal homepage. Couples can use a 360-degree camera to create a 360-degree personal space. For example, several 360-degree photos or videos are connected to each other in a virtual space, so that other people can explore and discover in your 360-degree space. However, 3 participants said that pages such as Moments and personal homepages are very similar to existing apps like Instagram and Facebook Messenger. They hope I can make a unique app.
After digesting and sorting out the feedback from the first focus group, I started the second prototype design based on the first version.
Letter and Custom Emoji
In the letter function, I added a variety of functions (Figure 1), including the user's voice baseline establishment and eye tracking system (Figure 2,3), which allows the APP to know where the user's eyeballs are on the screen and automatically speak their partner's voice. I also added painting and letter background switching functions to the letter function (Figure 4).
In order to simplify the virtual avatar function so that it can be widely accepted, I changed the steps of uploading personal photos to scan the face, and simplified the operation interface, eliminated redundant functions, and converted the virtual avatar function into user-made emoticons Based on their facial model (Figure 5,6). At the same time, this self-made emoticon function is combined with the letter function.
The delivery time of the letter is based on the geographic location of you and your partner (Figure 7).
The stationery background supports the replacement of 360-degree videos, which can provide richer information and experience (Figure 8).
Second Focus Group
The first focus group was held on January 26, 2021: four people participated in the second focus group.
1. Participants like letter function very much. Especially the voice baseline recognition and eye tracking system, imagine when your partner’s voice appears, it provides a feeling of warmth and care.
2. Participants like the combination of letter function and custom emoji, and feel that it provides a wealth of information and experience.
1. The design of letter paper and APP UI is too old. Participants hope to change it to a more modern and novel design language. Some Icon designs need to be improved.
2. The custom emoji function develop further. Participants hope that custom emoji will be handled more prominently.
3. Regarding the letter paper background can be replaced with 360-degree video, participants hope to see a page on how to change the background, and they think it would be better if the 360-degree selfie of the partner can be shown in the video.
4. Participants want to use custom emoji to make a message sending action, which will be displayed every time the user opens the letter.
5. Participants think that the UI design and concept of my first prototype can be combined with my second prototype.