digitally mediated existentialism
collaboration with Li Bian
Parallel Lives is an online platform concept for answering the question "What if I lived somewhere else?"
Site mockup at lllives.com
Parallel Lives encourages people to contribute an accurate picture of their daily routine and activities through video and other media. By aggregating individual data along with preexisting information like weather and public transportation, Parallel Lives lets you see how "someone like you" would live on the opposite end of the world. Key elements to the design would be a search system that allows you to see how a day/experience would be like through video as well as linked information, and a user interface that makes the site an inviting experience.
It is social media that highlights the diversity of the globe through the commonalities of daily life, differing from existing outlets like YouTube by promoting coherent, personalized storytelling rather than a vast and random collection of media. While originally conceived for people who are moving to a different place, Parallel Lives could open up a whole range of possible uses by providing a framework that allows people to try different perspectives.
Parallel Lives functions as social anthropology, personal documentary, a “What If…” simulator, real life RPG, and could develop into any variety of interpretations that become meaningful for its users.
Starting with an initial idea of personal international finance, and how living in multiple countries complicates an individual’s economics, we realized that there are far more issues than simple currency conversion at play. In moving from place to place, a person is buffering lifestyles. Standard of Living indexes try to give a general idea of the cost of basics like housing, food, transportation…yet these calculations are averages that do not reflect the differences in lifestyle choices people make.
Also, there is nothing that captures the value of things without a direct price tag, like the experience of riding a bike versus driving. We resolved that the only way to experience such unmeasurable experiences was to experience it, or if you can’t do so in person, through the experience of someone else.
There was a simple realization that searching for something like "riding in Taxi in Beijing" actually gives video of exactly that experience, and thus is extremely interesting in its potential for simulating how your experience would be. If we could exploit the ubiquity of everyday video and organize it with relevant data in an understandable and navigable structure, it could be a whole new way of seeing the world.
Research and Process
We simulated the experience by asking a friend from Los Angeles to videotape one day of her life and share it with us, while we did the same in Copenhagen.
Additionally, we interviewed four people, two of whom are students from Copenhagen Business School, one unemployed mom of 53 years old, and one professor of 34 years old at the Danish Design School. We received insights regarding how they value the opportunity of seeing and experiencing lives from different perspectives, as well as suggestions on how we can best take this idea to reality.
As a parallel experiment in facilitating the sharing of physical items, we developed a box that contains artifacts we gathered through daily experiences in Copenhagen, each artifact being inside a bag with a tag of a story on it. We presented the box to our users to ask for their views on this and what they might put inside if they were to prepare a box for someone not living in Copenhagen. While intriguing, this part was not essential, and would likely not be included in the initial launch of the web platform, although it could be interesting as a viral promotion program or later addon.