This Is The User Experience Of A Heartbreak

All of the subtle ways our online lives and our romantic lives are hopelessly entangled, in animated GIFs.

Many have been in a situation similar to the one web developer and interaction designer Sarah Hallacher found herself in last year: going through a painful breakup and noticing how you and your partner’s lives are tangled up in all sorts of ways you’d never realized.

Today, those experiences–the moments of unexpected small reminders, decisions, and hassles surrounding a breakup–occur as much in our online lives as in our physical ones.

Sarah Hallacher

As Hallacher saw her own Internet experience change drastically after her breakup, she became intrigued by all the little questions she had. She hated how iPhone’s autocorrect feature would suggest her ex’s name, how their Venmo accounts were still kind of connected, how photos she’d been tagged in on Instagram just disappeared. When her ex blocked her on Facebook, she wondered if their Facebook memories were gone forever or if they’d remain intact if he unblocked her in the future. She googled: “does blocking someone on Facebook end your relationship?”

“It struck me that some user experience designer at Facebook is … making those decisions,” she says.

Sarah Hallacher

And so Hallacher, who graduated from NYU’s interactive telecommunications graduate program last year, started documenting her experiences, taking screenshots and exploring online forums for heartbroken people who also had questions. The result is her interactive collection of animated GIFs, “The User Experience Of A Heartbreak.”

Sarah Hallacher

“My goal was to pinpoint the exact place where something might feel painful for a moment,” she says. “I was trying to capture both the technology and the experience of it. “

The homepage of the project starts with a Google search. You can type in a word and auto-suggestions she’s populated pop-up. Each leads to its own GIF.

Once you go down the rabbit hole of thinking about it, it’s easy to think up endless scenarios of a couple’s subtle online entanglements even beyond what Hallacher explores. When two people share a Netflix account, for example, it’s recommendation algorithm is programmed to take into account a couple’s combined movie preferences. That’s hard to undo.

Sarah Hallacher

Hallacher’s goal is to get people thinking, but she’s not really advocating that tech companies start shielding people from their pain. Life online, she believes, is just another facet of regular life. A painful breakup is just going to be painful no matter what.

“If you’re not speaking to a person, you don’t know why they are taking these actions online. The online version of their action is very dry and cold, without context. I just wanted to highlight that,” she says.

“The computer is just a computer, and it doesn’t feel sorry for you.”

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.

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