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Productive, Anxious, Lonely - 24 Hours Without Push Notifications

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We report from the Do Not Disturb Challenge, where 30 volunteers disabled notification alerts for 24 hours across all devices. We isolated the effect of the absence of notifications on the participants through an experimental study design: we compared self-reported feedback from the day without notifications against a baseline day. The evidence indicates that notifications have locked us in a dilemma: without notifications, participants felt less distracted and more productive. But, they also felt no longer able to be as responsive as expected, which made some participants anxious. And, they felt less connected with one's social group. Moreover, we found evidence that people may start to feel overloaded by notifications: in contrast to previous reports, more about half of the participants began to disable or manage notifications more consciously after the study.
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Productive, Anxious, Lonely -
24 Hours Without Push Notifications
Martin Pielot
Telefonica Research
Placa Ernest Lluch i Marti, 5
Barcelona, Spain 08019
martin.pielot@telefonica.com
Luz Rello
Human-Computer Interaction Institute,
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA, USA 15213
luzrello@cs.cmu.edu
ABSTRACT
We report from the Do Not Disturb Challenge where 30 vol-
unteers disabled notication alerts for 24 hours across all
devices. The eect of the absence of notications on the par-
ticipants was isolated through an experimental study design:
we compared self-reported feedback from the day without
notications against a baseline day. The evidence indicates
that notications have locked us in a dilemma: without noti-
cations, participants felt less distracted and more productive.
But, they also felt no longer able to be as responsive as ex-
pected, which made some participants anxious. And, they
felt less connected with one’s social group. In contrast to pre-
vious reports, about two third of the participants expressed
the intention to change how they manage notications. Two
years later, half of the participants are still following through
with their plans.
CCS CONCEPTS
Human-centered computing Empirical studies in
HCI;
KEYWORDS
Notications; Mobile Devices; Deprivation Study
ACM Reference format:
Martin Pielot and Luz Rello. 2017. Productive, Anxious, Lonely - 24
Hours Without Push Notications. In Proceedings of MobileHCI ’17,
Vienna, Austria, September 04-07, 2017, 11 pages.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3098279.3098526
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MobileHCI ’17, September 04-07, 2017, Vienna, Austria
©2017 Association for Computing Machinery.
ACM ISBN 978-1-4503-5075-4/17/09. . . $15.00
https://doi.org/10.1145/3098279.3098526
1 INTRODUCTION
In 2010, Iqbal and Horvitz [
18
] published a report of a study
where they asked 20 of employees of a large IT organization
to disable notications of their work email client. While some
participants realized that without notications, they could
better focus and interrupted their primary tasks less often,
every one of them reenabled notications after the study.
In 2017, notications are no longer conned to email at
work or SMS on mobile phones. They have become ubiq-
uitous and essential to an increasing number of services,
applications, and devices. People deal with dozens of noti-
cations per day and typically attend to them within minutes
[
2
,
34
,
37
], which means that they routinely interrupt con-
current activities.
Such interruptions have shown to have negative eects
on task performance in the work context [
1
,
4
,
11
,
16
,
18
,
27
,
36
,
38
]. Most notably, Iqbal and Bailey [
18
], Mark et al. [
27
],
and Kushlev et al. [
21
] found that notications have negative
eects on well-being as well.
In the context of mobile phones, notications have been
studied with focus on mobile messaging/SMS [
3
,
9
,
32
] and
mobile phone notications in general [
33
,
35
,
37
]. However,
with the notable exception of Kushlev et al. [
21
], who asked
participants to silence their phones and keep them out of
sight, existing studies are limited to observations: while they
can establish correlations between notications and other
factors, they cannot isolate notications as cause. For exam-
ple, even though Pielot et al. [
33
] found that receiving more
email notications correlates with higher levels of stress, the
study cannot isolate notications as causal factor. Increases
in stress and number of notication could have both been
subject to e.g. higher demands at work.
To better understand the eects of notications in a holis-
tic setting, we launched the Do Not Disturb Challenge. We
asked 30 people to disable notications across all sources of
notications for one day. Data was collected via question-
naire and a post-hoc interview. To isolate notications as
cause, we designed the Do Not Disturb Challenge as an exper-
iment and compared survey results to a baseline day. This
MobileHCI ’17, September 04-07, 2017, Vienna, Austria Martin Pielot and Luz Rello
allows us to attribute signicant dierences in the survey
responses to the presence or absence of notications.
The main contributions of this work are:
evidence that the absence of notications has positive
eects, such as making people feel less distracted and
more productive;
evidence that the absence of notications also has neg-
ative eects, as people feel less connected with others
and become anxious to no longer be able to adhere to
social norms regarding responsiveness; and
in contrast to previous work – 73.3% of the participants
expressed the intention of disabling some notications.
Two years later, half of the participants are still follow-
ing through with these plans.
2 RELATED WORK
Iqbal and Bailey [
17
] dene notication as a visual, auditory,
or tactile
alert
designed to attract attention. In daily lan-
guage, the word notication may be used to describe the
alert as well as a visual representation that is typically found
in a pop-up or a notication center (see Figure 1). In this pa-
per, we will use the word notication to
refer to the actual
alert.
Notication-Management Strategies:
In a recent sur-
vey [
14
], the majority of respondents considered themselves
to typically receive 20-50 or 50-100 notications per day.
In an in-situ log study on mobile phone notications [
33
],
participants received a medium number of 63.5 of notica-
tions per day. Both results reveal that, on average, people
deal with dozens of notication alerts every day. To manage
this volume of notications, Chang and Tang [
7
] found that
the ringer mode is a frequently-used mechanism to manage
attentiveness to notications on mobile phones. Lopez-Tovar
et al. [
24
] argue that users desire more ne-grained control
over how notications are presented in dierent contexts.
However, Westermann et al. [
41
] report that only a small
fraction (10%) of people use more sophisticated settings, such
as changing notication settings for individual apps. Thus,
people typically remain exposed to the majority of the noti-
cations alerts that they receive.
Notications & Engagement:
Lee et al. [
22
] showed
that notications often trigger engagement with the mo-
bile phone: in their data set, the majority (79%) of sessions
were preceded by notications. As shown by Mark et al. [
27
],
when information workers are without (the interruption of)
emails, they switch less between tasks. Similarly, Iqbal and
Horvitz [
18
] found that disabling email notications leads to
less frequent opportunistic email checking. Yet, not all inter-
ruptions are notication-triggered: in 2009, Jin and Dabbish
[
19
] found that in the case of information workers, 50% of all
interruptions are self-initiated. In addition, Oulasvirta et al.
[
31
] report that people frequently check their phones even
if there are no notications. We hypothesize that disabling
notications will reduce the engagement with the mobile
phone, but not eliminate it.
Figure 1: Notications on iOS.
Distraction & Productivity Impairment:
Since people
receive plenty of notications, by sheer probability, noti-
cations are bound to appear from time to time while the
receiver is busy with other tasks. Since people usually attend
to notications within minutes, notications may sometimes
interrupt those other tasks. Such interruptions can have
negative eects: previous work in the context of informa-
tion workers has found that notications negatively aect
work eciency when delivered in the middle of a work task
[
1
,
11
,
16
,
18
,
23
,
36
,
38
], and the eect is more pronounced
when the task is cognitively demanding [
10
,
26
]. As found
by Stothart et al. [
38
], this is even true when the notica-
tion is not attended, as tested in a controlled exam setting.
Hence, previous work consistently highlights the disruptive
eects of notications in work settings. Mobile phone users
also expressed to frequently feel interrupted by notications,
even outside of work settings [
33
]. We hypothesize that the
absence of notications will have positive eects on produc-
tivity.
Notications & Stress:
In addition to negative eects on
work eciency, interruptions can also aect people emo-
tionally. Interruptions in the workplace have been linked
to frustration [
16
] and stress [
25
]. In the context of noti-
cations, information workers felt signicantly less stressed
without email [
27
], without email notications [
18
], or when
checking work email was restricted to 3 times per day [
20
].
However, work emails no longer reach us at only work. Our
mobile devices may notify us about incoming emails at any
time, which blurs the boundaries between work and private
life [
6
,
8
]. Stress levels were found to positively correlate with
the number of mobile phone notications from, in particular,
Productive, Anxious, Lonely -
24 Hours Without Push Notifications MobileHCI ’17, September 04-07, 2017, Vienna, Austria
email clients [
33
], which indicates that email notications are
particularly problematic. Mobile phone notications in gen-
eral have been linked to inattention and hyperactivity [
21
].
On the basis of this related work, we hypothesize that the
absence of notications will reduce stress and other negative
emotions.
Notications & Availability:
On mobile phones, the
largest chunk of notications originate from messaging ap-
plications [
22
,
33
,
37
], such as SMS, WhatsApp, or Facebook
Messenger. On such communication channels, “people are
assumed to be constantly co-present, and thus, constantly avail-
able for conversation” [
3
]. On average, notications from mes-
sengers are attended within minutes [
2
,
13
,
14
,
34
,
37
], and
people maintain this levels of attentiveness for large parts
of their wake time [
13
]. Consequently, notication-enabled
computed mediated communication plays a “crucial role [..]
in the fragmentation of the working day” [
39
]. We hypothesize
that the absence of notications will aect the participants’
ability to maintain the usual level of attentiveness.
Suppressing Notications:
Two previous studies ap-
plied the methodology of depriving participants from noti-
cations: Iqbal and Horvitz [
18
] asked 20 information workers
to turn o email notications on their work computers for
one week. Compared to a baseline week, some participants
checked emails more frequently as a result, but for the ma-
jority of the participants, it reduced the frequency of oppor-
tunistic email checking. While the participants were aware
that notications are disruptive, they valued the awareness
they provide. After the study, none of the participants kept
notications disabled.
Kushlev et al. [
21
] conducted a study in which for one
week, 221 participants were asked to maximize interruptions
through their phone (enabling alerts, keeping phone in reach)
and compared this to a baseline condition, where the same
participants were asked to minimize interruptions (disabling
alerts, keeping phone out of sight). The results show that
with maximized interruptions, participants reported higher
levels of inattention and hyperactivity – symptoms associ-
ated with ADHD.
We complement these previous works by presented evi-
dence that does not only focus on a single domain (work) or
a single device (mobile device), but concerns the eect of no-
tications across dierent domains and devices. In contrast
to ndings by Iqbal and Horvitz, our study goes beyond work
email, and nds that – in particular related to their mobile
phones – participants formed the intention to reduce their
exposure to notications – temporarily and permanently. In
contrast to Kushlev et al., our sample represents informa-
tion workers from dierent countries instead of university
students, and our combination quantitative and qualitative
analysis allowed us to better understand the why behind the
quantitative ndings. Neither of those previous studies touch
upon the topic of maintaining availability in the context of
computer-mediated communication.
3 METHODOLOGY
To create an experimental study about the eect of notica-
tions across devices, we asked people to join a notication
detox: disable notications for a day across all devices (ex-
perimental condition), and compare this day to a normal
baseline day (control condition). Inspired by the Do Not Dis-
turb mode of iOS and OS X, we called the study the Do Not
Disturb Challenge. The study took place in the rst half of
2015.
Figure 2: Do Not Disturb mode in OS X. When turned on,
notication alerts are suppressed.
Design
The presence of notications served as independent vari-
able with two levels: in the control condition, notications
settings were left unaltered. In the experimental condition,
notications were disabled across all computing devices,
applications, and services. The experiment used a repeated-
measures design: each participant contributed to both con-
ditions. We counter-balanced the order in which the par-
ticipants went through those two conditions to cancel out
sequence eects. That is, half of the participants started the
study in the experimental condition, the other half in the
control condition.
Initially, we had intended to run each condition for one
week. However, when we started the recruitment, many
people declined participation, because they did not want
to be without notications for a whole week. To avoid a
potential self-selection bias, we limited the duration of each
condition to 24 hours.
Unlike Kushlev et al. [
21
], we did not ask participants to
maximize exposure to notications in the control condition.
Using the usual behavior as baseline better reects current
practices and improves the ecologic validity of our ndings.
Study estionnaires
We used questionnaires to collect data on the participants
reaction to both conditions. Table 1 shows the statements
from both questionnaires. Participants rated their level of
MobileHCI ’17, September 04-07, 2017, Vienna, Austria Martin Pielot and Luz Rello
agreement to each statement on a 5-point Likert-scale, rang-
ing from disagree (score: 1) and agree (score: 5). They were
grouped along the following ve aspects:
responsiveness – as we hypothesized that notications
are essential to maintain responsiveness,
productiveness and distraction – as previous work had
revealed that the absence of notications lead to more
focus and time on task,
missing information and anxiety – as we were curious
to what extent people would (worry to) miss important
information and how this would aect them,
stress - as previous work linked notications to stress,
social connectedness - as previous work revealed that
most notications originate from communication ap-
plications.
To not bias participants towards a positive or negative
attitude while responding to the questionnaires, we balanced
the number of positive and negative statements. For example,
the statement I felt distracted was counter-balanced with I
felt productive. The order of statements was automatically
randomized to avoid sequence eects in the responses.
We opted for the use of single item measures as opposed
to full questionnaires in order to keep the burden on the par-
ticipants reasonable. The rationale for this decision was our
understanding that single item measures are useful when the
construct is unambiguous [
40
] or when a holistic impression
is suciently informative [42].
Post-Hoc Interview
The post-hoc interview aimed at ensuring that the partici-
pants had followed the instructions for the respective study
condition, collecting in-depth explanations of the question-
naire responses, and uncovering important themes that we
had not considered in the questionnaires.
To this end, we conducted a semi-structured interview
which was structured along the following open questions:
How do you deal with notications in general?
What were your expectations towards the study?
How was the experience to be with(out) notications?
Did you tamper with the notication settings?
Is disabling notications something you would do
more often in the future? Why (not)?
With respect to Question #4, we strongly emphasized that
not complying with the rules of the respective condition
would have no negative consequences for the participants,
and that from a scientic point of view it was essential to
know the truth. We therefore assume that participants re-
ported truthfully.
The interviews were audio-recorded. We used Thematic
Analysis [
5
] to identify the most prominent patterns and
themes within the interview data. We report them alongside
the quantitative results where applicable.
Ethics
We recognized the possibility that participants might miss
urgent and important information – with potentially severe
consequences – which they would not have missed with
notications enabled. Hence, we strongly emphasized this
as a risk in the informed consent. Further, we showed par-
ticipants how to set up the phone so that phone calls of
selected people would still be received, in case they expected
important calls. None of the participants made use of this
option.
Procedure
The study took place during the rst half of 2015. Before
taking part in the study, we sent the consent form to those
who were interested in joining the study. Once those people
had read the consent form, and if they agreed to take part
in the study, we assigned each them a participation ID to
decouple their identity from their responses. As rst step,
participants lled out a pre-study questionnaire, which, e.g.,
collected demographic information.
We then walked participants through all their devices and
applications that create notications and made sure that they
knew how to disable them. To ensure the absence of alerts, we
required the following steps: (1) Computing devices running
iOS or OS X were set into Do Not Disturb Mode, (2) Android
devices (only OS 5.0 and newer) were set into Priority Mode,
and (3) nally we assisted the participants in nding settings
or strategies for disabling notications in applications that
were not aected by above settings, such as Outlook or Skype.
These steps ensured that on arrival of a new notication,
including phone calls, there were no auditory, haptic, or
visual alerts.
Together with the participants, we identied two consec-
utive study days. These days had to be working days, where
no extraordinary events would take place. We instructed par-
ticipants to set up their devices in the late evening prior to
each study day, so that they would start the new day within
the given condition. Depending on the condition, they would
disable notications or leave them as usual. After 24 hours,
in the late evening again, the rst questionnaire was lled
out and participants switched conditions. After another 24
hours, the second questionnaire was lled out and the ex-
perimental part of the study was over. Finally, we invited
people for an open post-study interview. We let another 24
hours pass before conducting the interview to allow people
to reect on both conditions.
Productive, Anxious, Lonely -
24 Hours Without Push Notifications MobileHCI ’17, September 04-07, 2017, Vienna, Austria
Participants
The participants were recruited from social networks and by
using the snow-ball principle. 30 people (14 female, 16 male)
volunteered to take part in the study. Their ages ranged from
19 to 56 (
M=
28
.
9,
SD =
7
.
13). 12 participants had oce jobs
(e.g., marketing manager, data analyst, ...), 8 were students,
5 were university faculty members, and 5 were working in
the medical eld. Hence, the participant sample represents
white-collar workers. With a sample size of 30 subjects, the
study achieves a power of 83.2% for detecting medium eects
and 99.4% for large eects. None of the participants had a
special motivation for participating in the study, such as a
prior desire to do a notication detox.
Usual Behavior. In the pre-study questionnaire, most par-
ticipants (25) reported to be able to check notications in
most situations, including at work. Even if not required at
work, most participants still checked their mobile phones
regularly in the work place. Thus, most participants were
potentially exposed to notications at any time of the day.
In the interview, 10 of the 30 participants reported to man-
age notications of their mobile phones consciously through
the ringer mode, such as “I always keep my phone in vi-
bration mode at work” (P07), “Normally the phone is mute,
but the LED lights up when there is a notication” (P15), or
3-4 years ago, I decided to always keep the phone in silent
mode” (P25). Rare (n=3) forms of management included dis-
abling notications, such as “I usually have DnD at work and
phone in silent otherwise ” (P30), “I only have notications for
Line, WhatsApp, Messenger, Calendar, and alarms” (P32), or
I only have notications on the iPad, on the phone and the
PC, they are o, except email on the PC” (P34). The majority
of the participants did not report the use of any conscious
notication-management strategy. None of the participants
mentioned any notication-management strategy related to
stationary computers or browsers.
Expectations Towards the Study. The participants’ expec-
tations towards the study varied strongly. 15 of the 30 par-
ticipants agreed with the statement of being afraid to miss
urgent or important information during the day without no-
tications; the other half disagreed with said statement. For
example, P09 stated that “I am afraid to be considered ‘rude’
if I do not reply timely.” In contrast, P03 was not anxious,
saying that “I think I am an outlier: not many people expect
fast responses; if they do, they call”. 10 participants named
the boss as source of concerns: P10 said that since “My boss
was not here, so [participating] was ne.
6 participants informed their superiors and asked for per-
mission to take part in the study, since “Notications from
my boss need to be replied to immediately” (P07). 8 partici-
pants informed peers of taking part in the Do Not Disturb
Challenge. For example, P10 informed his girlfriend that he
“probably won’t respond as fast as usual.and P08 reported
that “I had a lunch out [and] told the person that I might not
receive texts or calls.
Finally, 3 people who we tried to recruit as participants
(not included in the 30 participants) declined to join the study
They felt that constant availability was expected at the work
place and that without notications they would not be able to
maintain the expected level of availability. P09 – who joined
the study despite initial concerns – said that she “thought of
saying ‘no’ to take part” because she was “worrying to miss
calls from work” and she “thought it would be horrible.
4 RESULTS
All 30 participants successfully completed the Do Not Dis-
turb Challenge. During the interview, we conrmed that
all 30 participants had complied with keeping notications
disabled or enabled, depending on the study condition.
Table 1 summarizes the quantitative results from the ques-
tionnaires that were issued on the day without notications
and the baseline day. For the descriptive statistics, we re-
port median, mean, and standard deviation for each of the
questionnaire items.
When analyzing Likert scales, there is disagreement amongst
scholars whether to use parametric or non-parametric tests.
In this paper, we report the more conservative non-parametric
statistics. Wilcoxon-Signed Rank test are used to test for sig-
nicant dierences and Cli’s delta are used to estimate the
eect size. Please note that researchers have argued that for
5-point Likert scales, t-tests and Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon
tests have comparable power [
12
]. As a test, we applied t-
tests as well and found the same items to be signicant. The
use of parametric tests would have led to the same high-level
conclusions. In the following, we discuss the eects of the
experimental manipulation on the survey responses.
Drop in Engagement and Reduced Responsiveness
The absence of notications had a signicant eect on how
participants perceived their engagement with the mobile
phone. They agreed signicantly less with the statement “I
was as responsive as usual” (
z=
3
.
269
,p=
0
.
001). The eect
size (
δ=
0
.
542) suggests large practical signicance. At
the same time, the agreement with the statement “Someone
pointed to me that I was responding slower than usual” was
signicantly higher (
z=
1
.
925
,p=
0
.
027). The eect size
(
δ=
0
.
158) suggests low practical signicance. The partic-
ipants’ agreement with “I forgot to check my phone for an
extended period of time” was marginally higher when noti-
cations were disabled (
z=
1
.
698
,p=
0
.
045). The eect
size (
δ=
0
.
19) suggests low practical signicance. As an
example, P02 “forgot my phone at work” because of not being
MobileHCI ’17, September 04-07, 2017, Vienna, Austria Martin Pielot and Luz Rello
Acronym
Item
Mdn MSD Mdn MSD pδ size Direction*
RespAsUsual
I was as responsive as usual 3 3.0 0.95 4 4.0 0.93 0.001 -0.542 large less
RespSlowerThanUsual
Someone pointed to me that I was responding slower than usual
1 1.8 1.30 1 1.3 0.80 0.027 0.190 small greater
UsageForgotCheck
I forgot to check my phone for an extended period of time 4 3.5 1.20 2.5 3.1 1.39 0.045 0.158 small greater
FeltDistracted
I felt distracted 2 1.9 0.92 2.5 2.6 1.19 0.020 0.32 small less
FeltProductive
I felt productive 4 3.9 0.83 3 3.4 0.89 0.011 0.333 medium greater
AttMissedProfInfo
I missed professional information that was important for me 1 1.9 1.17 1 1.4 0.94 0.011 0.209 small greater
AttMissedPersInfo
I missed personal information that was important to me 1 1.9 1.26 1 1.6 0.90 0.053 0.137 n.s
FeltWorried
I felt worried about missing notifications 3 2.9 1.48 1.5 1.8 1.09 0.001 0.421 medium greater
UsageFreqChecked
I frequently turned on the phone to check for missed notifications
3 3.5 0.97 3 3.1 1.20 0.031 0.177 small greater
FeltRelaxed
I felt relaxed 4 3.5 1.04 3 3.3 1.14 0.168 0.136 n.s.
FeltStressed
I felt stressed 2 2.0 1.00 2 2.0 1.13 0.395 0.068 n.s.
FeltConnected
I felt connected with my social group 3 3.1 1.34 4 3.9 0.97 0.002 0.342 medium less
FeltLonely
I felt lonely 1 1.7 1.01 1 1.4 0.72 0.071 0.176 n.s.
Experimental Con.
Control Condition
Significance / Effect
Table 1: Statistical analysis of the responses to the questionnaires that were lled out after the days with and
without notications. Scores range from 1 (= disagree) to 5 (= agree). The table lists median (Mdn), mean (M), and
standard deviation (SD) of the responses for each condition. The right part of the table shows the results of the
inferential tests and the magnitude of the eect (on the basis of Cli’s δ). The direction* eld indicates whether
during the day without notications (experimental condition), the agreement to the statement was signicantly
greater, less, or not signicantly dierent.
reminded of the phone by notications. These eects indi-
cate that subjective responsiveness and engagement with
the phone decreased with the absence of notications.
Less Distraction and Higher Productivity
The agreement to the statement “I felt distracted” was signi-
cantly lower when notications were disabled (
z=
2
.
054
,p=
0
.
020). The eect size (
δ=
0
.
32) suggests low practical sig-
nicance. In contrast, the agreement to the statement “I felt
productive” was signicantly higher when notications were
disabled (
z=
2
.
302
,p=
0
.
011). The eect size (
d=
0
.
333)
suggests medium practical signicance. P11 realized that
after some time of frequently checking the phone for new noti-
cations, I stopped checking, felt more productive.” P07 said
that without notications it was “easier to concentrate, espe-
cially when working on the desktop.” These ndings provide
evidence that without notication alerts, the participants felt
less distracted and more productive.
Missing Information & Violating Expectations
During the day without notications, participants were sig-
nicantly more likely to agree with the statement “I missed
professional information that was important for me” (
z=
2
.
289
,p=
0
.
011
,δ=
0
.
209, suggesting low practical signif-
icance). Further, they were marginally more likely to agree
with the statement “I missed personal information that was
important for me” (
z=
1
.
615
,p=
0
.
053
,δ=
0
.
137, suggest-
ing negligible practical signicance). During the post-hoc
interview, 8 participants reported to have missed important
or urgent information. For example, P10 “missed a WhatsApp
group discussion, where my group decided to meet to sign a
birthday postcard.A friend of P02 “was angry, saying that
‘we had a conversation and you forgot about it’. The girlfriend
of P10 was only ne with delayed response time because
she understood that this was part of a study.” These reports
illustrate how the absence of notications caused partici-
pants to miss information and violate expectations towards
responsiveness.
Worried about Missing Information
The lack of notications therefore created a new source of
worry: the agreement with “I felt worried about missing noti-
cations” was signicantly stronger (
z=
3
.
001
,p=
0
.
001)
during the day without notications. The eect size (
δ=
0
.
421) suggests medium practical signicance. 9 of the 30 par-
ticipants reported that they were anxious to miss important
or urgent information, such as, “I was waiting for a pack-
age and I was anxious to miss the call of the delivery service
to notify me about the arrival” (P03) or simply “I felt like I
was missing stu ” (P24). Others had appointments and were
afraid of missing messages. For example, P04 stated that “I
Productive, Anxious, Lonely -
24 Hours Without Push Notifications MobileHCI ’17, September 04-07, 2017, Vienna, Austria
was meeting with [a friend] for lunch, and I knew that I was
going to receive something from her.
More Frequent Checking
This worry resulted into checking the phone more frequently.
During the day without notications, agreement to the state-
ment “I frequently turned on the phone to check for missed no-
tications” was signicantly higher (
z=
1
.
869
,p=
0
.
031).
The eect size (
δ=
0
.
177) suggests low practical signicance.
In the interview, 12 of the 30 participants reported to have
checked their devices for new notications more often that
usual during the day without notication. Comments related
to this ranged from “frequently checking my phone manually
(P07) to “I even left the screen on not to miss [a friend’s] noti-
cations ... otherwise she would get angry” (P04). Particularly
extreme reactions were triggered when friends got angry:
because of the reaction of my friend, who got angry because
I forgot to respond, I was the whole afternoon with phone in
my hand” (P12). Some participants estimated the interval
in which they began checking the phone. Interestingly, esti-
mates named 30 minutes as interval lengths: “I checked the
phone every half hour” (P20), or “Checked email ca. every 30
minutes” (P15).
Stress & Being Relaxed
The anxiety induced by the absence of notications did, how-
ever, not translate into a systematic increase in stress. During
the interview, 11 of the 30 participants reported from positive
eects of not having notications. P09 said that “Usually, I
feel stressed, but in fact, today, I feel less stressed.” P03 found
himself feeling “more relaxed.” P22 concluded that “It was
amazing! I felt liberated!” However, neither of the tests of
the statements regarding stress (“I felt stressed” and “I felt
relaxed”) revealed signicant dierences. This might be ex-
plained by the nding that there are two opposing stress-
inducing eects at work – stress from the interruptions and
stress from being anxious to miss important information
or violate expectations –, which inuenced participants to
dierent extents.
Feeling Less Connected With Others
Our study revealed a link between notications and stay-
ing emotionally in touch with one’s social group. During
the day without notications, agreement to the statement “I
felt connected with my social group” was signicantly lower
(
z=
2
.
813
,p=
0
.
002). The eect size (
δ=
0
.
342) sug-
gests medium practical signicance. The inverse statement
I felt lonely” was, however, only marginally signicant (
z=
1
.
471
,p=
0
.
071). The eect size (
δ=
0
.
176) would have
suggested a small practical signicance. These results con-
trast that – while work-wise, disabling notications helped
to be more focussed and productive – socially, they nega-
tively aect the feeling of being in touch with one’s social
group.
5 POST-STUDY REFLECTIONS
The participants’ post-study reections to having notica-
tions disabled varied greatly. They ranged from very positive
responses, such as “It was amazing! I felt liberated!” (P22) over
neutral responses “It was not a big deal, since I am usually not
checking notications and people know that I am not respon-
sive” (P25) to very negative responses “I was paranoid and I
even left the screen on not to miss a friends notication” (P04).
The strong reactions on both ends emphasize the magnitude
of the eect that notications have on some people’s lives.
Manage Notifications More Consciously
9 of the 30 participants reported that thanks to their partici-
pation in the Do Not Disturb Challenge, they would manage
notications more consciously in the future. For example,
P09 “got aware how much [WhatsApp-group notications] are
stressing me”. P20 was “considering to only keep notications
for the important things, so people can better reach me” and
P26 had come to the conclusion that “The important apps are
Messenger, Hangout and WhatsApp. The rest does not require
notications”. P14 added “SMS” to the list. This shows that
our participants were becoming aware that not all notica-
tions are important, and that for them the most important
source of notications are messaging apps.
Using Do Not Disturb Mode in the Future
13 of the 30 participants said that they would use Do Not Dis-
turb or similar notication-suppression modes in the future.
11 of them planned to disable notications during specic
times or activities, such as: “put the phone in Do Not Disturb
Mode when I study” (P18), “for reading papers, want to concen-
trate” (P07), or “when I need to really get things done, I need
to turn notications o ” (P24). 2 participants decided to keep
Do Not Disturb permanently enabled.
Two Years Later - Did Participants Follow Through?
In April 2017, two years after the study had been conducted,
we contacted the 22 participants who intended to disable no-
tications selectively or use Do Not Disturb in the future. We
reminded them of the intentions that they had expressed dur-
ing the interview, and asked them whether they had followed
through with these intentions. 13 of those 22 participants
(59.1%) followed through with their plans. For example, P14,
who planned to only keep notications enabled for impor-
tant applications responded: “I have followed through with
my original plan of keeping only important messages from
SMS, none from Facebook or other social media.” 4 (18.2%)
MobileHCI ’17, September 04-07, 2017, Vienna, Austria Martin Pielot and Luz Rello
followed through partially. For example, P11, who planned
to disabled Skype notication balloons, responded “I disabled
for Skype personal, but re-enabled for professional.” 3 (13.6%)
did not follow through at all. For example, P9 who planned to
disable WhatsApp group notications, as she got aware how
much they are stressing, responded: “Unfortunately I’m not
following the plan and I haven’t disabled my Whatsapp group
notications. Probably I got used to having stress around ;)” 2
of the 22 (9.1%) participants did not respond to our inquiry.
6 DISCUSSION
The Do Not Disturb Challenge revealed strong and polarized
reactions to the absence of notications. For some partici-
pants, being without notications was a positive experience:
being more relaxed, less stressed, and more productive at
work. For others, fear of missing out and violating others’
expectations turned it into a negative experience.
Notifications Drive Phone Use and Distract
The absence of notications had a signicant eect on the
participants’ subjective responsiveness. During the day with-
out notications, participants were signicantly more likely
to feel less responsive than usual, and it was more often
pointed out to them that they responded slower than usual.
Further, without notications, participants reported to have
been more likely to forget checking the phone for extended
periods of time. This evidence corroborates previous nd-
ings by Lee et al. [
22
] that in mobile phone usage is often
triggered by notications. It also corroborates previous work
that notications cause people to interrupt current activities
to timely triage the notication [
18
,
27
,
33
]. In contrast to
Kushlev et al. [
21
], we did not ask to our participants to keep
their devices “out of sight, out of mind”. Thus, our study
design was less likely to limit self-interruptions.
During the day without notications, our participants
reported to feel signicantly more productive and less dis-
tracted. This conrms a long history of ndings that noti-
cations interrupt [
4
,
18
,
33
] and have negative eects on
task performance [
1
,
4
,
10
,
11
,
16
,
18
,
21
,
23
,
27
,
30
,
38
,
39
].
This strengthens the need for research about delivering noti-
cations at opportune moments [
16
,
29
,
30
]. However, some
participants of our study also expressed that they did not
feel interrupted by notications, which might be explained
by the nding the interruptions are perceived dierently,
depending on the nature of the concurrent activity [
26
], and
that productivity impairments can be largely explained by
the inattention introduced by notications [21].
In summary, the absence of notications made our partici-
pants engage less often with the phone, decreased perceived
distractions, and increased self-perceived productivity.
Notifications are Essential to Meet Social
Expectations
On the one hand, the absence of notications had clear posi-
tive eects. On the other hand, the absence of notications
became a new source anxiety and signicantly increased the
worry to miss information.
In one-third of the interviews, social expectations came up
as the number one reason. As reported in previous work [
3
,
9
,
33
], we found that the majority of notications originates
from communication applications, where not responding
timely can be perceived as an oense to the sender. In the
pre-study questionnaire, 80% of the participants agreed with
the statement that they are expected to respond timely. In the
post-study interview, our participants reported numerous
anecdotes, in which missed messages had lead to conicts
with friends and partners.
In another third of the interviews, participants empha-
sized the expectations of the work place to respond timely as
major issue. In the email-notication-deprivation study by
Iqbal and Horvitz from 2010, where participants re-enabled
work email notications, many of them said that they did
so for the awareness that notications provided rather than
because they felt that they had to re-enable them [
18
]. How-
ever, more recently (2014), Mazmanian and Erickson [
28
]
argued that constant availability has become part of the of-
fer that companies make to their customers. And in fact,
many information workers allow work emails to cross the
boundaries between work and personal life [
6
,
8
]. This devel-
opment may explain why 3 people declined participation in
the study: they felt that without notications they would not
be able to comply with the expectations of the work place.
The worry to miss important information or violate so-
cial expectations was so serious that 40% of the participants
reported to react to this worry by frequently checking the
phone when they were expecting important messages. With-
out notications, they felt no longer able to maintain the
expected level of availability – which had been enabled by
notications in the rst place. This provides evidence that
disabling notications – even though it reduces the number
of unwanted and stressful distractions – puts many people
into a situation that for some of them has worse impact on
their aective state than keeping notications enabled.
However, we must note that not all participants were sub-
ject to this new source of anxiety. One salient factor was
that participants who had no issue with being without no-
tication was that others already knew that they usually
would not respond timely to messages. We hypothesize that
managing the expectations of frequent communication part-
ners with regards to response times may be key to reduce
notication- and texting-induced technostress.
Productive, Anxious, Lonely -
24 Hours Without Push Notifications MobileHCI ’17, September 04-07, 2017, Vienna, Austria
Notifications Connect
When notications were enabled, there was higher agree-
ment to the statement “I feel connected with my social group”.
This indicates that without notications, our participants felt
less connected with others. From the interviews, we learned
that for our participants, notications were largely related
to personal communication services. Our ndings conrm
previous work [
33
,
37
] that notications from messaging ap-
plications are deemed the most important. The participants
who planned to selectively disable notications as a result
of the study, were frequently stating that notications from
these type of apps would stay enabled, e.g., “I keep WhatsApp
(P11) or “I am considering to only keep notications for the
important things, so people can better reach me” (P20).
Given the negative eects that notications can have, we
may be tempted to demonize them. However, these ndings
remind us that notications are also something positive, as
they had the eect of making the participants feel more
connected with the people they care about.
Notification Overload
The most novel insight, which has never been reported in
prior work thus far, is that more than two-third of our partic-
ipants reported to planned changes to the way they manage
notications. In contrast, in the study on disabling email
notications by Iqbal and Horvitz [
18
], all participants re-
enabled notications after the study.
One third of the participants reported to be selectively dis-
abling notications after having participated in the Do Not
Disturb Challenge. Some disabled WhatsApp group notica-
tions, others disabled all notications from all apps except
messengers. This conrms previous ndings [
29
,
37
] that no-
tications from communication services are more important
than others.
Almost half of the participants stated that they would use
notication-suppressing settings, such as Do Not Disturb, to
disable all notications in the future. The most-frequently
named intention was to disable notications during work
time, in order to improve concentration and productivity.
However, two participants said that they would be keeping
notications disabled around the clock in the future.
Two years after the study, about 59.1% of the 22 partic-
ipants who expressed such intentions are still following
through with them. 77.3% of these participants are still fol-
lowing through partially. Since mobile phone users rarely
change notication settings [
7
,
41
], this emphasizes the mag-
nitude of the eect that the Do Not Disturb study had on the
participants. The fact that more than half of the participants
reduced the number of notications that they are exposed to
on a daily basis is a warning sign that our participants were
realizing a sense notication overload.
Today, we are still living in the “wild-west land-grab phase”
of notications: more and more platforms (OSes, browsers, ...)
introduce push-notication channels. An increasing number
of apps and services is subjecting its users to notications.
Our study highlights one potential outcome of this devel-
opment: if apps and services do not treat people’s attention
with care and subject them to an ever increasing number
of notications, they may suer the Tragedy of the Com-
mons [
15
]. More and more people may follow the example of
our participants, and consider the use of more drastic mea-
sures to take back control, e.g., by disabling notications for
specic applications or disabling all notications during spe-
cic phases. In the long run, this may signicantly limit the
usefulness of notications to drive engagement, to connect
people, and to deliver proactive recommendations. This is
a clear call for using notications responsibly, i.e, to ensure
good timing and relevance of notications.
Limitations
Our participants were a sample of 30 white-collar workers.
The results may not generalize to other segments of the
population. In particular, the ndings may not apply for
people who cannot use computer-mediated communication
tools at work, who cannot check notications for extended
periods of time, or who are not too occupied by their daily
activities and therefore welcome distractions in general. The
study relies on self-reported data. Thus, ndings are based on
the participants’ self perception, which can suer from biases.
Further, single-item scales give holistic insights related to
a feeling (e.g. being stressed), but they cannot necessarily
distinguish the exact underlying factors (e.g. the exact type
of stress). Initially, we tried to recruit participants for a one-
week period without notications. When too many people
declined to participate, because they felt that this period was
too long, we limited it to 24 hours to avoid self-selection
bias. As a consequence, participants had very little time to
accustom themselves to the lack of notications. We assume
that over time that magnitude of the observed eects may
change.
7 CONCLUSIONS
We present an experimental study to investigate the eect
that notications across all devices and services have on its
users. In order to isolate notications as cause, we asked
30 people to disable notications for a day, and compared
self-reported behaviors and emotions to a baseline day. The
data we collected shows strong and polarized reactions to
being without notications, revealing a critical contrast:
Notications negatively impacted focused work, as par-
ticipants reported to feel signicantly less distracted
and more productive without them.
MobileHCI ’17, September 04-07, 2017, Vienna, Austria Martin Pielot and Luz Rello
At the same time, disabling notications also had sig-
nicant negative eects: it made participants more
worried to miss important information, not being re-
sponsive enough, and feeling less connected with their
social network.
In contrast to a previous deprivation study, where all
participants re-enabled work email notications af-
ter the study, about one-third of our participants ex-
pressed the intention to disable some sources of noti-
cations, and about half of our participants expressed
the intention to use Do Not Disturb (and equivalent
settings) more often in the future. Two years later,
60% of these participants are still following through
with their intentions. Another 18% have changed their
notication-related behavior.
Our ndings show that cultural practices around noti-
cations have locked people in a dilemma: on the one hand,
notications have become integral to the tools that connect
us with others, and they are needed to keep up with people’s
expectations. On the other hand, our participants became
aware of the negative eects that notications have on them
and some started to devise coping strategies. Notications
as a channel to engage with people may be threatened if this
dilemma is not addressed.
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... Thus, managing notifications to not continuously disturb the user is a crucial task. Simply disabling notifica- tions entirely is no suitable solution [7]. Various approaches exist that aim to find out opportune moments to present these notifications [1,3,4,5]. ...
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