Aberdeen University study on impact of smartphones

Researchers are setting out to discover how a growing obsession with smartphones is affecting working and social lives. Picture: Getty
Researchers are setting out to discover how a growing obsession with smartphones is affecting working and social lives. Picture: Getty
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RESEARCHERS at a Scottish university are setting out to discover how the public’s growing obsession with smartphones, tablets and digital technology is affecting their working and social lives.

They plan to recruit 15 families, with children under the age of 18, to assess how the new digital technologies are impacting their work-life balance over the course of a year.

Dr Natasha Mauthner, from Aberdeen University’s Business School, is one of the leading researchers in the project - “Creativity Greenhouse: Digital Epiphanies.” She said she planned to investigate how people are using smartphones, tablets and desk-based computers at home as well as in the workplace and how these technologies both support and challenge people creating and maintaining a satisfactory work-life balance.

The study also aims to provide an insight into whether people are seeking to change the way in which they use technology; what events in an individual’s life causes them to actively change their digital and work-life practices and behaviours; and to what extent some people are now craving a simple, sustainable and slow living life.

Dr Mauthner said: “Modern technology has unquestionably had so many positive effects on the way in which people can combine work and personal life. For example, being able to access email via a Smartphone means that it is possible to work from home, while on the move, and generally work more flexibly.

“However, for many this has undoubtedly led us into a culture of being constantly online – and now we are finding that what was initially a handy tool to make life easier, has led to many people feeling under more stress as there is more pressure on them to be constantly available.”

She continued: “Many people may not feel this is impacting on their personal or family life. But others may be seeking to change the ways in which these technologies blur the boundaries between work and the rest of their lives.”

Dr Mauthner added: “What I hope to understand from the 15 families we will be working with over the course of the next 12 months is how people’s conceptions of work and family life, and the boundaries between these, are changing through the use of these new technologies. What I mean by this is that these devices are not just tools that can either worsen or improve the work-life balance.

“Rather, I want to explore how these devices and their uses are being woven into the very fabric of our daily lives; and how this might actually be changing what it is and means to work or be a parent.”

The project, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is a collaboration involving Dr Mauthner, Dr Anna Cox from the University College London, Dr Chris Preist (correct) of the University of Bristol and Dr Rosie Robison from Anglia Ruskin University.

An Aberdeen University spokesman explained: “Dr Mauthner and Dr Karolina Kazimierczak, a research fellow on the project, will work with each family using a range of methods including interviews, shadowing, photography and video.

“The study will also investigate whether existing technologies can be used to encourage people to reflect on their technological and work-life practices, and if necessary, to bring about sustainable changes in practices. For example, can digital tools support different email habits, such as checking for new messages less frequently or reducing the number of emails written and sent? And does this make a difference to how people manage their time and their perceived expectations of 24/7 availability and responsiveness?”