Design for Relationship Break Ups: Curation of Digital Possessions

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Individuals in a romantic relationship will typically have a substantial number of digital possessions associated with that relationship; sometimes even creating digital possessions connected to their relationship before meeting in real life. These digital possessions connect partners by contributing to their digital identities as ‘individuals in a relationship’; they are an important part of a digital connection between partners, and actively contribute to the maintenance of that connection. If a romantic relationship ends in a break up, separation, or divorce, the digital possessions that once connected partners in a positive way become responsible for maintaining a connection that no longer accurately reflects the ex-partners’ relationship status. The persistence of digital possessions means that until they are managed or curated in some way, those digital possessions will continue to connect ex-partners in a digital context. The tools and options available to ex-partners when it comes to managing and curating their digital possessions in the context of a relationship break up are limited, and often do not support the specific intent of the individual. In this doctoral thesis, I investigated the ways in which technology could support individuals in managing and curating their digital possessions associated with a past relationship, after that relationship has ended. Through four qualitative studies, this research (1) introduced and evaluated eight prototype grammars of action aimed at supporting individuals to manage and curate their digital possessions in the context of a break up; (2) presented a reproducible method for identifying design dimensions to guide the development of those grammars of action across different life transitions; (3) demonstrated an understanding of the ways in which individuals’ attitudes towards digital possessions may be ‘tainted’ after a break up; and (4) demonstrated the current technical limitations individuals are confronted with when curating and managing digital possessions post-break up.
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