Clemson University business school researchers have developed a measurement tool that gauges a technology user’s level of mindfulness, which can aid them in achieving a technology’s potential, and avoiding its pitfalls.

Clemson professors and researchers Heshan Sun, Jason Thatcher and Tom Zagenczyk pose for a photo in a classroom on campus.

Research by Heshan Sun, Jason Thatcher and Tom Zagenczyk probes the mindful use of technology.
Image Credit: Patrick Wright

The research, “Technology Use: Conceptual and Operational Definitions,” was conducted over a 13-year period and involved approximately 900 university students and more than 300 working professionals.

“Mindfulness has attracted growing interest among researchers across a wide spectrum because of the proven benefits it brings to individuals and organizations,” said Jason Thatcher, management professor in Clemson’s College of Business. “Our study honed in on the benefits of mindfulness in the use of technology. The outcome of this research was a measurement tool that gives companies and organizations a way to gauge users’ mindfulness.”

Joining Thatcher in the research were Department of Management colleagues Heshan Sun and Tom Zagenczyk, associate professors, and Ryan Wright, an associate professor at the University of Virginia.

Research has shown people have varying levels of mindfulness, depending on their interests or state of mind at any given time. One area where being aware in the moment can benefit an individual is in their use of a technology.

Sun said the Clemson research involved three separate studies that measured various levels of IT mindfulness among participants. The studies found that a person’s level of mindfulness could be manipulated based on questions that were presented to them.

“What we found through these studies is that providing IT users with more flexible and conditional instructions on how to use a technology results in a more creative and innovative approach to how someone uses that technology,” Sun said. “If people are more conscious of what they are doing, they have more of a willingness to explore. With that mindset, they are more likely to expand their use of a technology by seeking out its potential.”

Conversely, if a person is given exact instructions on how to use a technology, they are more likely to stay the course in its use and not dig deeper to discover all of its benefits, Zagenczyk said.

“For instance, if someone is given direct instructions on the use of PowerPoint or Prezi technology, they will likely put their mind on autopilot and not realize all of the advantages those technologies have to offer,” Zagenczyk said.

Beyond missing out on a technology’s benefits, not being mindful while using technology can result in dangers to the user.

“People who aren’t cognizant in using technology are more susceptible to email scams, or they don’t install proper firewalls. That leaves them open to security issues that can affect their personal or professional lives in a very serious way,” Sun said.

According to Thatcher, the research has significant implications for companies and other organizations.

“One of the enduring problems of technology is that we don’t get the expected benefits. People are trained and expected to use it,” Thatcher said. “If a company wants to get the most out of its technology investment it will want its employees to be mindful while using it.”

The research found that companies can influence mindfulness in employees through the approach they take in training them on the use of a technology.

“Similar to how we manipulated levels of mindfulness in our research, an employer can get comparable results in the type of IT training they employ,” Thatcher said. “By providing less rigid and more flexible directions, they can empower their employees to exercise innovativeness in using the technology, which likely will lead to its continued use.”

The research has drawn interest from researchers and consultants alike in the U.S., Europe and Asia even before it has been published. Thatcher and Sun credit that to the impact their findings could have on future technology training.

“Our results offer a scale that researchers and others will be able to utilize in measuring mindfulness in technology use,” Thatcher added. “By helping an employee get the most out of a technology, companies are in turn getting the most from the investment they make in that technology.”

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