Primary Tasks and Peripheral Awareness: A Field Study of Multiple Monitor Use

Jonathan Grudin

MSR-TR-99-72 |

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This paper describes a field study of people who use multiple monitors for a variety of tasks. The size of a standard computer display has increased slowly, but the amount of information that we can access has increased dramatically. Two monitors on a single computer is a relatively inexpensive improvement that is available today: operating systems now support the dragging of windows and objects across multiple monitors. Interviewing and observing people who use a variety of configurations for a range of tasks, I conclude that people do not use a second monitor as extra workspace. They use it in different ways, generally for “peripheral awareness” of information that is not their main focus of activity. Secondary monitors often display the status of background tasks, events in the world, and communications from coworkers, family, and friends. The conditions are right for rapid growth in multiple monitor use, providing an opportunity for application developers.