On Interruptions

UPDATED (on Jul 14, 2014): Richard Koopmann has significantly reworked his data, and while it doesn’t change the outcome, it is worth looking at if you are a data nerd. I’ve preserved this post as original and the new data can be found here.

I had this theory, while reading something completely unrelated, and the theory goes like this: I wonder if people tend to leave people alone more if they deem the device (or thing) they are using (or doing) to be of a “work” related type of task. That is, are we more or less inclined to bug people if we think they are doing something more than just screwing off? Common sense answers this: of course we are less inclined to bug people we perceive to be busy with something of importance.

The unanswered question that nagged at me: if I am writing a novel on an iPhone, am I more or less likely to get interrupted, than I would be if I was writing the same novel, same place, but by hand with a pen on paper? I’m doing the same task, just using a different device — how would that matter to the perception others had of me?

I thought the answer would be: never bug someone physically writing — they are clearly busy. I admit, that’s a rather stupid way to think as there are plenty of ways to waste time with a pen and paper, but I still had to know if I thought the same way as others.

So imagine you walked into an open office, and you can see what each person is doing the device(s) they are using and as you walk in you know you want to kill some time talking to someone — anyone. You know all the people in the room, and have no preference who you talk to, you just don’t want to write that TPS report so you want to shoot the shit.

Someone is on an iPhone, another on an iPad, another on their laptop, another still on a desktop, and then someone writing on actual paper with an actual pen — which of those people are you most likely to interrupt?

Naturally, I took a poll to help get to the bottom of this.

I asked two questions, while both are essentially asking the same thing, I rephrased the question to try and get a more accurate set of data.

The Results

I’m not a statistician and it’s been almost a decade since I had a class on it (I aced the course though). Because of that I decided to ask for some help and Letterpress ace @rkoopmann got in touch. He, apparently is a wiz with poll data.

So he worked up this report for me and I want to present it to you in its entirety.


Here we go, thanks rkoopmann:

Methodology

The poll was presented as a post with an embedded iframe on The Brooks Review website. The post was titled Interruption Survey and contained the following introduction and note:

I’d appreciate you taking a moment to fill this out (note this is an iframe, you need to scroll the frame to get to the “finish” button): Note: I’m assuming you want to interrupt someone and they are using the device.

Instrument

The poll consisted of two questions:

  1. I am more likely to interrupt someone using:
    • a pad of paper to write.
    • an iPad.
    • a Desktop.
    • a Laptop.
    • an iPhone.
  2. I am least likely to interrupt someone using:
    • a pad of paper to write.
    • an iPhone.
    • a Desktop.
    • an iPad.
    • a Laptop.

Each of these items was required and only one choice was allowed per item.

Results

Respondents

There were 499 submissions received between 2014-06-11 18:44:51 and 2014-06-14 14:34:49 (GMT?).

Note that some percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

Geography

The majority of respondents (58%) were from the United States; the next-largest group of respondents (9%) was from Great Britain. The remaining 33% of respondents came from 49 other countries with each country contributing less than 5% of respondents.

Operating System

The overwhelming majority of respondents (82%) were running an iOS (49%) or OS X (33%) device. Windows (4%) and Linux (2%) were the remaining identified operating systems; the tool was unable to identify platform for the remaining 12% of respondents.

iOS 7.1 (46%) and Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks (29%) were the largest group of respondents; 9 respondents (2%) were bleeding-edge dev-types running iOS 8; 14 respondents were old-school OS X 10.1 Puma (released Sep 2001).

Q1. I am more likely to interrupt someone using

  • a pad of paper to write. 12%
  • an iPad. 16%
  • a Desktop. 15%
  • a Laptop. 6%
  • an iPhone. 51%

We can see that an iPhone was selected at a significantly higher rate and a Laptop was selected at a significantly lower rate (chisq = 317.7635; df = 4; p \< 0.001) than expected (if we assume all options would be selected at the same rate of 20%).

There was no significant differences with how frequently a pad of paper to write, a Desktop, and an iPad were selected.

By Operating System
  • iOS users (49% of respondents) responded with an iPhone at a significantly (chisq = 184.9796; df = 4; p \< 0.001) higher rate than expected.
    • iPhone users (34% of respondents) responded with an iPhone at a significantly higher rate and a Laptop and a pad of paper to write at a significantly lower rate (chisq = 151.5882; df = 4; p \< 0.001) than expected.
    • iPad users (15% of respondents) responded with an iPhone at a significantly higher rate and a Laptop at a significantly lower rate (chisq = 36.5205; df = 4; p \< 0.001) than expected.
  • OS X users (33% of respondents) responded with an iPhone at a significantly (chisq = 82.9102; df = 4; p \< 0.001) higher rate than expected.

Q2. I am least likely to interrupt someone using

  • a pad of paper to write. 45%
  • an iPhone. 21%
  • a Desktop. 22%
  • an iPad. 2%
  • a Laptop. 9%

We can see that a pad of paper to write was selected at a significantly higher rate and that a Laptop and an iPad were selected at significantly lower rate (chisq = 264.4569; df = 4; p \< 0.001) than expected.

There was no significant differences with how frequently an iPhone or a Desktop were selected.

By Operating System
  • iOS users (49% of respondents) responded with a pad of paper to write at a significantly higher rate and a Laptop and an iPad at a significantly lower rate (chisq = 151.7143; df = 4; p \< 0.001) than expected.
    • iPhone users (34% of respondents) responded with a pad of paper to write at a significantly higher rate and an iPad and a Laptop at a significantly lower rate (chisq = 105.5882; df = 4; p \< 0.001) than expected.
    • iPad users (15% of respondents) responded with a pad of paper to write at a significantly higher rate and an iPad and a Laptop at a significantly lower rate (chisq = 46.3836; df = 4; p \< 0.001) than expected.
  • OS X users (33% of respondents) responded with a pad of paper to write at a significantly higher rate and an iPad and a Laptop at a significantly lower rate (chisq = 78.4790; df = 4; p \< 0.001) than expected.

Holy cow, that’s so close to legitimate journalism that it makes bloggers everywhere shudder.

What Does This Mean?

What it means is that if you want to get work done, uninterrupted, you better not be doing it on an iPhone.

And if you really want to be left alone, write on paper.

But there are bigger implications to all of this than just the above. The audience that completed this survey is pretty tech centric. Therefore the respondents (one would assume) inherently know that you can likely do more work on your iPhone than a pad of paper these days.1 And yet, the perception of someone likely to be dicking off on an iPhone, and therefore interruptible, is still there.

Look at the data, it suggests that the hierarchy of what is seen as a “real” tool goes from: is essentially paper in a league of its own. The iPhone is seen as something you are clearly not using concentration for, given the willingness to bug people using them.

That’s crazy.


A few people wondered why I didn’t just use generics for iPad and iPhone — like tablet and smartphone — my reasoning was twofold:

  1. I don’t care about the other devices.
  2. I suspect that people would answer differently between iPhone and BlackBerry, but not between HP and Apple for laptops. So I reasoned that the best way to keep that consistent was to name some devices.

The data can’t explain why we perceive paper as being more serious — more uninterruptible — but it does let us know that there is a different perception when you are using paper. And as an employer that’s a perception which I think employees should be aware of.

Maybe you love responding to emails from your iPhone, but perhaps, if you want your boss to think you are working, responding on a piece of paper is a better strategy.

Did I really just recommend that?

Either way my curiosity is only more peaked now.

UPDATED (on Jul 14, 2014): Richard Koopmann has significantly reworked his data, and while it doesn’t change the outcome, it is worth looking at if you are a data nerd. I’ve preserved this post as original and the new data can be found here.


  1. Exception to crazies like Mr. Rhone and Mr. Marks. 

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Article Details

Published
by Ben Brooks
8 minutes to read.


tl;dr

UPDATED (on Jul 14, 2014): Richard Koopmann has significantly reworked his data, and while it doesn’t change the outcome, it is worth looking at if you are a data nerd. I’ve preserved this post as original and the new data can be found here. I had this theory, while reading something completely unrelated, and the […]