Final Project / The Rest of Us

Shifting our inherent perception of reality to those of others: A Failed Attempt


To play with the challenge of intuitive prejudices, inducing empathy in others, and understanding those with different intuitions I had to start by looking at an aspect of our lives that informs and shapes our personal perspectives, prejudices, and realities. I found an exciting opportunity in the form of linguistic relativity theory(which I also used as my theory assignment). The basic ideas behind linguistic relativity theory are pretty straight-forward, and have become a new minor obsession of mine. The theory is built on the idea that the language we speak, and how that language treats words and concepts, shapes our perception of reality, and therefore our perception of ourselves and each other. So, how could I create an experience that changes your perception of reality through a change in the language you use to understand it? 


There are many examples of how linguistic relativity shows up between different cultures and the languages they use: how the concept of time is spoken about, how many names for colors there are, how complex subjects like emotion and love are spoken about. Each of these areas provides an exciting opportunity to play with shifting our perceptions, but for the sake of this small project I chose to focus on one: time.


The way in which we speak about time varies between cultures, and in theory changes the way we understand time as a concept. In European languages time is objectified, spoken of as a thing we can quantify the same as any object, where other languages, such as the Hopi or the Aymaran language in Peru,  speak about time not as an object but as a passing duration, with no objectified noun. Another aspect of this linguistic different is the Aymara see the past as in front of you, and the future is behind, where our European languages say the reverse. Making time conceptually feel like a linear march forward. 

Could we use technology to give a glimpse, or filter, of someone else's reality? And can that glimpse inform or change how you live your reality?

To look at a first draft to answering these questions I turned to a Chrome Extension, to look at what language replacement could look like very easily. Starting with an example from Dan Shiffman's Programming A to Z class, I built a simple extension that finds certain words regarding time and replaces them with new phrases of a different time concept. 


This approach turned out to be very tricky and did not capture my desired effect at all, which didn't feel too surprising. The context in which time is being spoken about in the replaced text is completely lost, making the replacement feel incongruent with the rest of the phrasing and not allowing it to shift your perspective. It was also lacking something that I found to be very important, affecting the outputs and inputs of your personal conversations. This test was only looking at how the broader outside world of the web spoke about time, not how you and those you have conversations with spoke about time.


It was this thought that led me to the next iteration of where this project could progress, effecting and shifting the personal communications between me and others. Instead of changing the words used on the web through a blanket solution, I would want to continue this project by creating a custom autocorrect keyboard in my text messages that replaces my personal perspective of time with that of a different linguistic reality, allowing for there to be much more nuance in the context and be much more connected to my own realities and biases. 

Skylar JessenComment