Social Distancing and Social Biosensing: Intersubjectivity from Afar
The shelter-in-place orders across the U.S. in response to the COVID-19 pandemic forced many relationships once sustained by in-person interaction into remote states through computer-mediated communication (CMC). Work, school, holidays, social engagements, and everyday conversations formerly experienced through rich and contextual in-person interactions instead have taken place on messaging, voice, and video chatting platforms that diminish or altogether lack many social cues and other qualities critical to social interaction. The difficulties feeling connected to one another observed during this period have stressed the need for novel forms of communication that enable deeper interactions. Social biosensing, the interpersonal sharing of physiological information, has shown promise facilitating social connection at a distance. In the present research we document the experiences of nine pairs of friends (N = 18) who navigated living through a shelter-in-place order, reporting on their experiences sharing their electrodermal activity (EDA) in response to short videos. Participants described the artificial and unnatural nature of communicating using typical forms of CMC and a range of interpretations of EDA as both emotional response and as representative of personal characteristics. We implemented a phased approach to study the temporal nature of forming an understanding of unfamiliar yet intimate data like EDA. Our results indicate typologies of meaning-making processes: “stablers”, “broadeners”, and “puzzlers”. We also interpreted our findings through the lens of intersubjectivity, analyzing how analogical apperception and dialogical interaction both play a role in participants’ meaning-making about their own and their partner’s biosensory information. We conclude with implications from this work pertinent to intersubjectivity theorists, social biosensing researchers, and CMC system designers and developers.