Moving Towards Multi-Device Digital Wellbeing

Despite a growing interest on improving people's relationship with technology, researchers and media often relate digital wellbeing as a problem that characterize single technological sources at a time, with a particular focus on smartphones. Targeting a single source, however, may not be sufficient to capture all the nuances of people's digital wellbeing.In today's multi-device world, indeed, users typically use more than one device at a time: as recently called for in a recent CHI workshop, more effort should be put into evaluating multi-device and cross-device interaction to enhance digital wellbeing. We started to move towards multi-device digital wellbeing with the aim of providing insights to better cope with digital wellbeing in a multi-device context. We first analyzed 322 popular tools for digital self-control in the form of smartphone apps or web browser extensions, with the aim of understanding whether and how they take into account multi-device settings. We found that the majority of the analyzed tools are rooted in a single-device conceptualization that prevent them from capturing all the nuances of people's multi-device experiences.

To understand how to overcome such a single-device conceptualization, we then conducted a background interview and a co-design and sketching exercise with 20 users with different occupations and backgrounds. In the interview, we probed the factors that shape multi-device experiences, and the triggers that make users switch from one device to another. In the co-design and sketching exercise, instead, we investigated what each participant would change about their behavior with their different devices, and what could help them facilitate and maintain these changes.

We found that digital wellbeing problems like distractions are not related to the device per se, but to its Internet connectivity: in that sense, distractions can come from any connected device. Participants also reported that using more than one device at the same time can be either a positive or negative experience, depending on the underlying performed tasks. When devices are used to satisfy multiple, incoherent tasks like browsing social networks on the phone while watching a film on the smart TV, in particular, the multi-device experience can negatively influence user's digital wellbeing, e.g., with a sense of frustration for not being able to follow the movie plot. This suggests the need of designing more integrated DSCTs able to analyze and make sense of data collected from a variety of sources, with cross-device interventions that can adapt to different technological sources and performed tasks. An example is our FeelHabits tool, a multi-device DSCT that we deveolped to target the simultaneous and/or alternating use of the PC and the smartphone.

Thanks to our findings, we also call for digital wellbeing solutions that go beyond technological tools, encompassing social, educational, and even political factors. Our participants, indeed, agreed on the importance of learning how to properly use technology since childhood: in our multi-device world, a "digital education" school course highlighting both positive and negative sides of using (and overusing) technology may contribute to the digital wellbeing of future generations, and may be more effective than any lock-out mechanism. Most of the findings reported above have been published in a full paper at CHI '21. Watch the video of the presentation!


  • Coping with Digital Wellbeing in a Multi-Device World, Alberto Monge Roffarello, and Luigi De Russis, Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘21) [pdf]
  • Towards Multi-Device Digital Self-Control Tools
    Alberto Monge Roffarello and Luigi De Russis, IFIP Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (INTERACT ‘21) [pdf]