Dr Jennifer Long: Vision@WORK+play: Our love affair with technology

man using a mobile phone

Are you surprised to learn that people access their touchscreen mobile devices (such as smartphones, tablets) on average 52 times per day?

Or that some people use their mobile devices for up to 7.5 hours a day?

These recently-published statistics1 were presented by Dr Margaret Cook at the Human Factors & Ergonomics Society of Australia (HFESA) Annual conference on 8-9 November 2021.

I must admit, when I heard these statistics, I instantly thought “TEENAGERS!”

But it wasn’t.

The study included participants aged 22 – 61 years, and included academics, professional staff and higher degree research students.

While younger participants (aged 20-29 years) used their mobile devices for an average of 3.9 hours per day, the participants aged 40+ years used their devices for an average of 1.8 hours per day.

It just goes to show that all those instances of checking the weather, checking the time, or checking emails adds up over the course of a day!


We love our digital devices. Let’s use them more at work!

And what better way to test this than to use them in the rugged, physical world of shipbuilding?

Dr Valerie O’Keeffe, of Flinders University in Australia, also presented at the HFESA conference in November. She reported the results of a study she conducted with shipyard workers whose work was heavily dependent on paper-based documents. This work environment was harsh and physically large.

The study involved a survey and a trial of a prototype digital work order. The subset of workers who participated in the study trialled the prototype by using 4 different portable devices (iPad, iPhone, tablet device and laptop).

The study participants embraced the idea of using mobile devices at work. They considered digital work orders would be more useful and efficient for documenting and communicating information.

Alas, adopting digital work orders was a significant change for this workplace. And as frequently happens with any significant workplace change, some of the workers raised concerns about the changes. These concerns included:

  • Confidentiality of digital information, and
  • The possibility that there would be less face-to-face interactions with their colleagues.

The researchers also identified physical challenges, for example, that some digital devices were cumbersome to handle and use.


How can we make a technology love affair work more effectively?

Dr O’Keeffe and her co-author Sara Howard, recommend that organisations who are considering implementing digital work-based systems should first assess the effectiveness of the existing work process.


Because it’s important to understand the impact technology has on people, and to ensure that the technology is both easy to use and useful.

Dr O’Keefe recommends using human factors methods. “These can help identify mismatches between users, tasks and technologies, improving ease of use”, she says.

Dr O’Keefe also recommends that new systems need to be designed and implemented in the context of a broader change management process because this will improve the success of implementation.



1. Alzhrani AM, Johnstone KR, Winkler EAH, Healy GN, Cook MM (2021) Using touchscreen mobile devices – when, where and how: a one-week field study. Ergonomics. DOI: 10.1080/00140139.2021.1973577

Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash


Dr Jennifer Long is a visual ergonomics consultant based in Sydney, Australia. http://www.visualergonomics.com.au