As social computing grows, the world is getting smaller. Consider that an iPhone today is as powerful as the most advanced desktops just years ago, and it’s clear that technology is revolutionizing our existence. The question, Professor Gloria Mark asks, is whether the costs and benefits are keeping pace. Her research examines our ongoing efforts to integrate digital media into our lives, taking a hard look at issues ranging from how we use social media in times of crisis to how Internet access drives multi-tasking. “The basis of my work is understanding and studying digital behavior,” Professor Mark says. “Never before have people been able to connect to each other — and to find information — on such a global scale.”
A central focus of Professor Mark’s research is investigating the relationship between digital and offline behavior — the interplay of stress, mood and computer usage. “There’s so much access to data and to other people that we’re overloaded with information,” she says. “The result is that people get overwhelmed — especially in the workplace.” Through her work, she is leading the search for solutions that can alleviate this kind of stress and its serious health implications.
“If we are able to get a detailed understanding of how people are using computers day-to-day, it can inform technology design,” Professor Mark says. This key insight, she continues, is transforming everything from how companies regulate the flow of information to how governments craft state and federal disaster policies. “By studying social media to identify patterns of behavior during a crisis, we can build technologies that distribute resources more efficiently and help people recover more quickly. The potential benefits are enormous.”