Mobile email: functional or dysfunctional?

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frustratedprof.jpgHigh fives to the Globe and Mail for some great content as of late. While flipping through today’s paper, this little piece stuck out questioning the functionality of mobile email and it asks the question: how much BlackBerry is too much BlackBerry? These “Crackberry” type articles always get a big response, but at least now there’s been a study behind the facts. As it turns out, ‘Berry users can admit when their device is causing some dysfunction in their life, but can always turn around and point out the good that it provides, too.

In their article, published by the European Journal of Information Systems, the professors say their research subjects were all very forthcoming in describing their “dysfunctional usage patterns” — being distracted while driving, while in business meetings and while at home or on vacation with their families.

“But they [also] made a convincing argument that their mobile devices are highly functional and allow them to be efficient, to multitask without disruption to others and to respond immediately to messages, as well as offering them the freedom to work from anywhere,” they write.

Full story here. Here’s a pretty solid summary of the findings of the two prof’s performing the study at Ryerson Univerity in Toronto:

The downside and upside

Ryerson professors Wendy Cukier and Catherine Middleton looked at the contradictory perceptions of mobile e-mail usage.

Dysfunctional

Dangerous: Many BlackBerry users read and send e-mails while driving. Some who participated in the Ryerson study admitted to almost getting into accidents doing this.

Anti-social: Heavy users acknowledge that they do not restrict their BlackBerry use to times when they are alone. They send and receive messages while in meetings, on the telephone and while at home or on vacation with their families.

Distraction: Users zone out when their BlackBerry vibrates. Many have the Pavlovian compulsion to immediately check to see what they are missing. The researchers describe this as the problem of “absent presence,” where individuals stop interacting with someone they are with in person in order to interact with someone at the other end of a mobile device.

Infringement: Mobile technologies make it difficult for some to maintain boundaries between their work and private lives.The technology can be enslaving.

Functional

Efficiency: Users can work from anywhere, any time — at their convenience. The technology allows them, in effect, to multitask and be in two places at once.

Minimal disruption: Proponents believe their handheld devices are unobtrusive when they are switched to “silent” mode and, therefore, can be used without bothering anyone in public places.

Immediacy: Instant connections allow for instant decisions.

Freedom: Proponents of the technology say they are no longer tied to their desks, or even their cellphones. E-mail allows them to glance at the message and pick and choose who they respond to, from wherever they are.

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