NYT Magazine Article on Interruption Science

16 Oct 2005 - 4:29pm
852 reads
Dan Saffer

"A picture of 21st-century office work emerged that was, [Gloria
Mark, an HCI researcher] says, "far worse than I could ever have
imagined." Each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given project
before being interrupted and whisked off to do something else. What's
more, each 11-minute project was itself fragmented into even shorter
three-minute tasks, like answering e-mail messages, reading a Web
page or working on a spreadsheet. And each time a worker was
distracted from a task, it would take, on average, 25 minutes to
return to that task. To perform an office job today, it seems, your
attention must skip like a stone across water all day long, touching
down only periodically.

Yet while interruptions are annoying, Mark's study also revealed
their flip side: they are often crucial to office work. Sure, the
high-tech workers grumbled and moaned about disruptions, and they all
claimed that they preferred to work in long, luxurious stretches. But
they grudgingly admitted that many of their daily distractions were
essential to their jobs. When someone forwards you an urgent e-mail
message, it's often something you really do need to see; if a
cellphone call breaks through while you're desperately trying to
solve a problem, it might be the call that saves your hide. In the
language of computer sociology, our jobs today are "interrupt
driven." Distractions are not just a plague on our work - sometimes
they are our work. To be cut off from other workers is to be cut off
from everything.

For a small cadre of computer engineers and academics, this
realization has begun to raise an enticing possibility: perhaps we
can find an ideal middle ground. If high-tech work distractions are
inevitable, then maybe we can re-engineer them so we receive all of
their benefits but few of their downsides. Is there such a thing as a
perfect interruption?"


Dan Saffer
Sr. Interaction Designer, Adaptive Path

Syndicate content Get the feed