Wherever you look, people look at the screens.
In the decade, when smartphones have become ubiquitous, we now feel that they are almost as common as smartphones themselves: they are sucked into the black hole staring at these particular applications – you know which they are – and then gone for half an hour before you realize .
Researchers at the University of Washington have conducted in-depth interviews to find out why we are forced to control our phones. They have found a number of triggers, common across age groups, that start and end the usual use of smartphones. The team also explored user-generated solutions to stop unwanted phone use. The results will be presented on May 7 at the ACM CHI 2019 Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems in Glasgow, Scotland.
"For years I have been looking at people's experiences with smartphones and listening to them talking about their frustration with how they deal with their phones," said co-author Alexis Hiniker, assistant professor at the UW Information School. "But on the other hand, when we ask people what they consider meaningful about their use of the phone, nobody says," Oh, nothing. "Everyone can point out the experience with a phone that has a personal and lasting meaning.
"This is very motivating for me. The solution is not to get rid of this technology, it provides tremendous value. So the question is: How do we support this value without bringing all our luggage?"
Hiniker and her team talk to three groups of smartphone users: high school students, college students, and adults who graduated from college. 39 subjects were smartphone users in the Seattle region between 14 and 64 years. The talks started with background questions and an example of "thinking out loud" in which participants went through apps on their phone. Interviewers would then ask for more in-depth questions about applications that the participants pointed out as the most likely cases of compulsive behavior.
"We hoped to get a holistic view of the behavior of the participants," said Jonathan Tran, a UW undergraduate who studied human-centered design and engineering.
Generally speaking, respondents had four common triggers to initiate forced use of their phones:
- During unoccupied moments like waiting for a friend to show up
- Before or during boring and repetitive tasks
- When you find yourself in socially unpleasant situations
- When they expected to receive a message or notification
The group also had common triggers that ended the compulsive use of the phone:
- Real world competitive requirements such as meeting a friend or needing to go somewhere
- They realized they were on the phone for half an hour
- It comes over content they've already seen
The team was surprised to find that the triggers were the same in age groups.
"That doesn't mean teens use their phones the same way they do adults. But I think this compulsive inflammation to go back to the phone is taking place in the same way in all these groups," Hiniker said. "People talked about everything on the same dates: high school students would say," Whenever I have a dead moment, when I have one minute between classes, I get my phone. "And the adults would say," Whenever I have one dead moment, when I have one minute between seeing patients at work, I pull out my phone. "
The researchers asked participants to identify something about their behavior they would like to change, and then drew on the paper how the phone could help them.
"Many participants have outlined" lock-out "mechanisms, where the phone would basically prevent them from using it for a while," Tran said. "But the participants mentioned that even though they felt bad in their behavior, they didn't really feel bad enough to use their sketched solutions. There was some ambivalence."
To this team, this finding pointed to a very different picture of people's relationships with phones.
"If the phone wasn't valuable at all, then he would be sure the lockout mechanism would work great. We could stop talking and the problem would be solved," said Hiniker. "But it isn't."
Instead, researchers found that participants found meaning in diverse sets of experiences, especially when applications allow them to connect to the real world. One participant talked about how the meme generator helped her communicate with her sister because they were constantly changing. Another participant mentioned that the Kindle app allowed her to connect with her father who read the same books.
"People call it an economic calculation," Hiniker said. "Like," How much time do I spend with this app and how much time is actually invested in something permanent that goes beyond this particular moment of use? "Some experiences support a lot of compulsive use, and this will dilute the time people spend on activities that are meaningful.
When it comes to designing another wave of smartphones, Hiniker recommends that designers move away from the whole system blocking mechanism. Instead, applications should allow users to control their own engagement. And people should decide whether the application is worth their time.
"People have a pretty good sense of what they care about." Hiniker said. "They can try to customize what's on their phone to support things they think is meaningful."