In the article ” With a Little Help from a Friend: A Shower Calendar to Save Water,” by Matthias Laschke, Marc Hassenzahl, Sarah Diefenbach, and Marius Tippkämperwe, we are introduced to an ambient visualization tool which allows users of a shower to compare relative water savings within a household.
The authors suggest that ambient feedback is “non judgmental” in that it does not propose a set standard of consumption to which one must adhere. Reactance, a negative motivational reaction to inputs that could suggest limits to freedom, is a legitimate concern when you are designing for behavior change, however this only rarely comes up in ecofeedback research. That being said, by providing comparisons between users, one might better understand and/or shape the norms of behavior in a household, using subtle pressures to conform. This can, of course, go both ways. One might learn that others in the household consume less water and, in turn, adjust their consumption downward. One might also learn that others in the household consume more water and, in turn, adjust their consumption upward. Recall how the addition of a tiny smiley face to a power bill had the effect of keeping energy efficient households energy efficient.
Overall, the Shower Calendar appears to succeed at being “a vague and ambient display, which appropriately maps consumption to a visualization,which avoids the beautification of waste, is persistent (i.e., displays not only water used, but also consumption patterns over time) and individualized.” The above video does a very good job of explaining the mechanics of the concept. Users identify themselves by pressing a coloured button, which corresponds to the colour of the circle meant to identify the amount of water not used. Each circle starts out as a representation of 60l of water, after the first “free” 4l of water is used the circle starts to shrink in response to actual use in the shower. 60l is actually a lot more water than is commonly used per shower in Germany (the location of the study), but this “max” amount allowed for the kinds of shower you might need to take after a spartan race or cake fight.
The prototype was tested on two families of three people for a period of one month. Given the small sample, what I find most interesting from the test are the qualitative assessments of the experience of working with the tool, which demonstrated that the families talked about their water consumption and at least tried to decrease their water use in response to the Shower Calendar. Quotes such as “At the beginning everybody grumbled at my small dots. But when they became larger and larger, my parents stopped. I was definitely influenced by them, because we could see each other’s dots,” highlight the mechanics of social norms and the pressures that emerge when these quiet norms are made more obvious.