The Familiar Stranger: Anxiety, Comfort, and Play in Public Places

Paulos, E. and Goodman, E. 2004. The Familiar Stranger: Anxiety, Comfort, and Play in Public Places. In Proc. CHI ’04: 223-230.

As humans we live and interact across a wildly diverse set of physical spaces. We each formulate our own personal meaning of place using a myriad of observable cues such as public-private, large-small, daytime-nighttime, loud-quiet, and crowded-empty. Not surprisingly, it is the people with which we share such spaces that dominate our perception of place. Sometimes these people are friends, family and colleagues. More often, and particularly in public urban spaces we inhabit, the individuals who affect us are ones that we repeatedly observe and yet do not directly interact with – our Familiar Strangers. This paper explores our often ignored yet real relationships with Familiar Strangers. We describe several experiments and studies that led to designs for both a personal, body-worn, wireless device and a mobile phone based application that extend the Familiar Stranger relationship while respecting the delicate, yet important, constraints of our feelings and affinities with strangers in public places.

Acceptance rate: 16%.