Computers should make us happier!

26 February 2015

Two University of Sydney researchers are calling on developers to rethink their entire approach to designing computer software.

Professor Rafael Calvo, School of Electrical and Information Technology and Dorian Peters, Faculty of Education and Social Work are urging developers to employ "positive computing" software methods in their design processes.

Professor Calvo, Director of the Positive Computing Lab and Co-Director of the Software Engineering Group at the University believes we are at risk of becoming slaves to our own computer designs, when instead we should be directing them in ways that foster our happiness.

"It is not just about getting a computer to do more things for you," says the Professor whose research is focussed on the design of systems that specifically support wellbeing in areas of mental health, medicine and education.

"For the past three decades we have been focussed on technology for improving performance and productivity - we need to move on from that- towards developing technology that respects and improves our well-being, something we call positive computing."

The pair who has been researching the effects of computer technology on a person's wellness argue technology can support things, such as positive emotions, self-awareness, mindfulness, empathy, and compassion.

According to Peters, there are already examples that show certain technology designs can increase altruism, positive emotion, and self-awareness. On a recent trip to Silicon Valley, they met with researchers at Facebook who run the company's "Compassion Project", and gave a seminar as part of "Mindfulness Week" at Google.

"Even people at the big tech companies are starting to see the benefits of considering impact on wellbeing for both business and social reasons," says Peters.

"We know how to make technology irresistible, addictive even," says Professor Calvo. "We should repurpose this knowledge into designing digital products that support quality of life and psychological flourishing."

In their recently published book 'Positive Computing: Technology for Wellbeing and Human Potential' Calvo and Peters explain that technologists' growing interest in social good is part of a larger public concern about how our digital experience affects our emotions and our quality of life.

In the book they break the notion of wellbeing down into some of it's critical parts. They focus on factors like autonomy, connectedness, and meaning, all of which have been shown by research to be key to wellbeing.

Peters cites two of their current projects (one with Asthma Australia and one with the Children's Hospital Westmead) both designed to help adolescents with chronic illness transition from paediatric care to mature self-management.

"If this was just about dealing with the practical, we could just make an app that reminded them to take their medicine, but this is about something bigger. It's about helping young people develop a sense of competence and autonomy, both of which are key factors of psychological wellbeing."

Follow University of Sydney Media on Twitter

Media enquiries: Victoria Hollick,, 0401 711 361