Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Getting Lost in Email: How and Why Users Spend More Time in Email than Intended
by Hanrahan, Benjamin V., Ph.D., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2014, 196; 10595359
Abstract (Summary)

Email has become deeply embedded in many users' daily lives. To investigate how email features in users lives, particularly how users attend to email and get lost within it, I ran five studies that probed how users determined relevancy of messages, logged interactions with email, gathered diary entries related to individual sessions, and investigated the gratifications sought from email use. For the first study, I performed an exploratory experiment in the laboratory to determine how participants assessed the importance of individual emails (N=10). The next investigation I undertook involved three different studies, which I detail individually: a survey on email usage (N=54); a two-week study of email usage (N=20); and finally, the application of Attentional Network Test (N=9). My final study was to validate my findings around the reasons for attending to email, this was done through deploying a survey that followed the Uses and Gratification Theory tradition (N=52)

In my studies I found that the majority of attentional effort is around reading email and participating in conversations, as opposed to email management. I also found that participants attended to email primarily based on notifications, instead of the number of unread messages in their inbox. I present my results through answering several research questions, and leverage Conversation Analysis (CA), particularly conversation openings, to explicate several problematic aspects around email use. My findings point to inefficiencies in email as a communication medium, mainly, around how summons are (or are not) issued. This results in an increased burden on email users to maintain engagement and determine (or construct) the appropriate moment for interruption.

My findings have several implications: email triage does not seem to be problematic for the participants in my studies, somewhat in contrast to previous research; much of the problem around email, particularly getting lost in email is in managing the tension between promptly responding to messages while limiting engagement with email; due to the social nature of the problems with email, modifications to the email client are limited in their potential effectiveness to prevent getting lost and reduce email related anxiety.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Perez-Quinones, Manuel A.
School: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Department: Computer Science and Applications
School Location: United States -- Virginia
Source: DAI-B 78/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Computer science
Publication Number: 10595359
ISBN: 978-1-369-75104-8
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