- A new study conducted by Stanford aims to understand how people’s use of technology impacts their wellbeing.
- The researchers want to differentiate between all the different ways people might use a single platform, like Facebook.
- Instead of relying of self reporting, a program will take a screenshot every five seconds, and they hope to eventually take screenshots every second.
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The project, as described in the MIT Technology Review, will study digital screen time by taking screenshots of participants’ devices at five-second intervals. “Mapping the human screenome can be a critical and cross-cutting part of solutions and theories about social challenges involving media – from fake news to smartphone addiction to social media and mental health,” the authors wrote about the project, which they compare to mapping the human genome.
As the researchers wrote in Nature, the thousands of studies examining the effects of screen time and digital media have been limited by asking participants to self report, and not differentiating between their various activities. They suggest that no one actually knows what individual people see on their screens, which makes most research on the subject “incomplete, irrelevant, or wrong.”
Being on Facebook, for example, no longer has one meaning that researchers can connect to wellbeing. The broad category could include “finding out what your friends are doing, attending a business meeting, shopping, fundraising, reading a news article, bullying, even stalking someone.” For this study, the researchers hope to be able to more finely differentiate between different types of online activity.
Having a screenshot of a personal device taken every five seconds might sound invasive, but the researchers are hoping for an even more frequent look into what is on the screens of study participants. They wrote in Nature that they’re working on software that would allow a more granular look at screentime, with a recording every second.
Most people might balk at giving anyone this much access to their devices, but the study has already collected over 30 million “screenomes” or screenshots from 600 participants. This video shows a sample of what one person’s screenomes look like.