Woman using smartphone and laptop

If you’re like most people today, you’re constantly using tech devices, including smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktop computers. Sometimes, you might start a task on one device, such as shopping, working or studying remotely. And then complete it on another.

Is multi-device use good for society? Is it bad for society? And why do we switch devices for different tasks?

Chi Chen, lecturer of Information Systems and Decision Sciences (ISDS) at Cal State Fullerton’s College of Business and Economics examined these questions in his 2020 study, “Multi-Device Use: Understanding the Motivations behind Switching between Multiple Devices during a Task,” which appeared in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction.

We talked with him about the study and what it tells us.

CSUF Business News: What motivated this study? And what are its practical implications?

Chi Chen: Recent years have been marked by the emergence of a diverse array of devices, such as desktop and laptop computers, smartphones and tablets. Increased availability of these devices creates an ecosystem that enables use of multiple devices to complete single or multiple tasks. As a result, multi-device use has gradually become a popular pattern in recent years. However, despite the growing awareness and popularity of multi-device use, empirical studies pertaining to motivations behind the intention to use multiple devices have been limited, motivating me to conduct this research.

The results of this study suggest that people tend to use multiple devices because they learn from experience and realize that using different devices can help them complete different tasks easier and faster.

When there is a good fit between one device and a specific task, this fit motivates them to switch devices. For example, a smartphone is easier to access and read than a laptop. The laptop can help people type faster than the smartphone. As a result, people switch from one device (the smartphone) to another (the laptop). The practical implications are essential for IT device providers. They need to simplify multi-device use by developing a seamless synchronization of data and content between devices and sharing of those devices.

Chi Chen, CSUF ISDS lecturer

Chi Chen

Business News: How was this study conducted, and what were the goals?

Chen: The study was based on a questionnaire of 217 subjects. This study invited the subjects to a lab in which we explained a trip-planning scenario to them. After understanding the scenario, subjects then stayed in the lab and answered the questionnaire that measured the variables related to the research model. The goal is to understand why the subjects decide to use multiple or single devices to complete the trip-planning task.

Business News: Do you see any harm to individuals or society with the increased use of multiple devices?

Chen: Some main problems are decreases in focus and learning, memory impairment and increased stress levels, resulting in reducing your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. However, multi-device use has become an unstoppable trend as we are emerging in the multi-screen world. Also, according to the results of my research, people intend to and are even eager to use multiple devices to deal with different tasks. My point is that instead of [discouraging] people [from] using multiple devices, we need to find a way to collaborate with our devices to increase the performance and to make our lives easier and nicer. This study serves as a starting point that inspires and opens up a rich and new research avenue for this field to move from traditional single-device use to a model focusing on understanding complex patterns of multi-device use.

For More on Information Systems

Cal State Fullerton’s College of Business and Economics is a leader in information systems education and research. For more on faculty research and student and alumni stories, read more of our articles on Information Systems and Decision Sciences.