Shared understanding reduces anxiety among users
Replace private UIs—which separate users and cause ambiguity by obscuring their intentions—with a common digital environment for all Meta users that leverages the neuroscience of theory of mind and ensures comfortable awareness for all participants.
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UI design suggestions
1. Ensure content can be viewed by anyone else wearing a headset by default
All users should be exposed to the same holographic surroundings, just as we all see the same physical surroundings in the real world. Actions performed on “invisible” content (or within empty contours) are inherently disorienting to those nearby, as they diverge so dramatically from our experiences in the real world. Furthermore, devices like Google Glass have demonstrated our distrust of private interfaces, as they allow aggressive or invasive actions can be performed secretly, even when face-to-face. Such practices may divide users, rather than encourage cooperation, and may contribute to social anxiety.
2. When privacy is necessary, use a blocking object, like curtains or dividers
Do not simply make sensitive content invisible from the perspective of unauthorized users, as this creates a disparity between users that can lead to confusion and distrust. Instead, just as in real life, establish privacy with holographic curtains or dividers. This approach ensures a consistent experience across all users without confusion or mixed signals, and eliminates the disorienting sight of gestures performed on empty space.
3. Privacy is a function of etiquette, not a feature of the interface
Augmented reality is most powerful when treated as a single, shared space. Don’t relegate privacy to an on/off switch that segregates user experiences. Confusion arises when this otherwise collaborative experience is modulated unknowingly from one user to another for the sake of privacy or discretion.
For example, a user who wishes to view financially sensitive information should do so within an interface that features privacy measures, such as a curtain, divider or a display that can be tilted away from unwanted viewers. Users should design their own privacy within the rules of the shared space, not by breaking them.
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The neuroscience behind it
We’ve evolved to continually scrutinize the posture, movements, and actions of those around us in order to determine their intent, developing our theory of other people’s minds. Within augmented reality, if a user’s content is made invisible to others, perhaps due to a difference in permissions, their actions will appear to be performed on empty space, making them inherently confusing and confounding expectations learned in the physical world.
The mystery of invisible content can also raise other forms of social anxiety. For instance, a user might wonder if their colleague is secretly engaged in something hostile or invasive, or if they’re even paying attention to the task at hand in the first place.
The cognitive burden described above has been found specifically within the circuits around the Superior Temporal Sulcus and the right Temporo Parietal Junction, which show heightened activity when unpredictable actions are observed (Koster-Hale and Saxe, 2013).