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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/K025392/1
Title: Creativity Greenhouse: Digital Epiphanies
Principal Investigator: Cox, Professor AL
Other Investigators:
Mauthner, Professor N Preist, Professor C Robison, Professor RAV
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: UCL Interaction Centre
Organisation: UCL
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 February 2013 Ends: 30 September 2014 Value (£): 195,135
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Human-Computer Interactions
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
The advances in technology in recent years have had many positive effects on the ways in which people can combine work and personal life. For example, being able to access email via a smartphone means that many can work from home, or work a flexible work pattern that successfully fits around caring responsibilities. However, the resulting "always-online" culture in which people expect almost instant responses to email messages, brings stresses and strains to those who feel under pressure to respond immediately and be available on a 24/7 basis. The default settings on many smartphones mean that owners of such devices are frequently alerted by beeps and vibrations to new messages via an array of communication channels. Such irresistible interruptions result in friends and family complaining that the smartphone owner is not always mentally present despite being physically present. Such situations are so common that the term 'Crackberry' has entered common parlance to refer to the excessive use of the Blackberry smartphone by its users. In addition to supporting modern work-life balance practices, new technologies and their specific design characteristics therefore also present challenges for those seeking an acceptable or satisfactory work-life balance.

Despite widespread and proliferating debates about the impacts of digital technologies on work-life balance, few empirical studies have explored how these technologies are being used and what impact their use is having on people's work and personal lives. This project seeks to enhance our understanding of the paradoxical and double-edged effects that new technologies and digital practices are having on work-life balance through two central objectives.

First, it will explore the impact of a range of digital technologies and practices on work-life balance across a range of individuals and households. We will investigate: How are people using smartphones, tablets and desk-based computers at home and at work, and how can these technologies both support and challenge people in creating and maintaining a satisfactory work-life balance? Are new technologies having negative effects on work-life balance? What technological and other strategies are people developing to manage these effects, and how successful do they feel they have been? Are people seeking to change the ways in which they use technology, and balance work and life, in response to perceived negative effects? What events and epiphanies in their lives cause them to actively change their digital and work-life practices and behaviours? And to what extent are some people seeking to change their practices in search of 'simple, sustainable and slow living'?

Second, the study will test whether existing technologies can be used to support and enable reflection on technological and work-life practices, and to bring about sustainable changes in practices. We are interested in exploring people's awareness and behaviours in relation to both their general technology practices (e.g. what percentage of their work time is spent on what they may regard as 'non-productive' activities) and their specific practices with regards to their email habits (e.g. when, where, and how often they check email). We will investigate whether and how existing software tools can promote deep reflection on time usage and work-life balance issues, and how such technologies may be used to induce what we are calling 'digital epiphanies': moments in people's lives where they pause to reflect on and seek change in their work-life balance and digital practices. We will also implement new tools that aim to support new email habits such as checking for new messages less frequently and reducing the number of messages composed and sent with the aim of providing respondents with a greater sense of control over their digital practices and the perceived expectations of others regarding immediate responses. This may in turn have a positive influence on work-life balance.
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