People are getting smarter when it comes to the use of their smartphones - and taking a break from the constant flow of information.
Increased adoption of smartphone and other connective technologies has brought a subsequent growing concern and interest in the balance between organisational performance and individual wellbeing. In a study to be published this year in the European Journal of Information Systems, we interviewed a group of smartphone users in 2006 and again in 2011 to compare how their smartphone use changed over that five-year period from the height of the Blackberry era in 2006 after the iPhone arrived in 2007.
Our study was conducted within a large global financial services corporation, with interviews mainly in Paris and Sydney. Corporations like the one we studied embraced technologies like the BlackBerry, which offered increased connectivity between workers but also inspired a corporate culture that could often lead to employees suffering from hyper-connectivity and burnout.
Our findings revealed a few major shifts in smartphone usage in the five years between interviews. First, the iPhone had come onto the scene in 2007 and, while the corporation continued to support the BlackBerry, almost every participant in our study had also purchased an iPhone that they used for both personal and work purposes.
In the first round of interviews, participants expressed a love-hate relationship with the BlackBerry - the 'CrackBerry' - some actually secretly wishing it would be lost or stolen so they could 'get a break.'
Five years on, our participants were much more comfortable taking work into their own hands... literally. In managing their connections with work in the first round, interviewees spoke of 'switching it off' and 'escaping' its spell. In the second round of interviews, they spoke of managing the 'flow' of information, turning the flow up or down 'like a tap,' as one interviewee described it.
They moderated the flow of media and connections between work and non-work life more seamlessly, with much less stress than they expressed in the earlier phase of our study.
Although the 'CrackBerry' days of email obsession may be gone, myriad new work and social media have exponentially exploded in the hands of smartphone users. Other studies of knowledge workers have proven that addictive and dysfunctional behaviours are still commonly associated with mobile technologies.
In our study, however, we found that the use of smartphones is evolving relatively rapidly and that we are more or less adjusting to and making different choices when it comes to these tools that characterise our age.
The right amount and quality of information at the right time gives us unprecedented power; however, too much information and digital distraction can keep us from getting important things done. It can also keep us from connecting with those around us.
What many people want is Zen-like 'flow'...not too little and not too much connectivity. My colleagues and I call this a state of 'connective flow' in our studies of distributed work teams.
For those interested in finding a balance of connection and reflection, I recommend Will Powers' book, Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a good life in the digital age (2010, Harper Perennial).