Are Multiple Computer Screens a Good Idea?

Several years ago, I attached three monitors to my work computer.  It made life a lot easier for me.  On one screen I kept my Internet work, on the second my email and other communications, and on the third my word processing.  Since then, I’ve added a fourth, a large 52″ monitor that I use for presentations and educational material.  Eventually I will use the latter for watching our real-time monitoring and control systems.

Multiple Screen Mania

 When I first installed multiple screens, I took a lot of flack from colleagues (all of it friendly).  Even our office head got in on the act.  But, after a while, I noticed that he had gone to 2 monitors.

According to an article by Matt Richtel in the NYTimes (7 Feb 2012):

Workers in the digital era can feel at times as if they are playing a video game, battling the barrage of emails and instant messages, juggling documents, Web sites and online calendars.  To cope, people have become swift with the mouse, toggling among dozens of overlapping windows on a single monitor.

But there is a growing new tactic for countering the data assault:  the addition of a second computer screen.  Or a third.

This proliferation of displays is the latest workplace upgrade, and it is responsible for the new look at companies and home offices–they are starting to resemble mission control.

There are several reasons while multiple monitors have become fashionable:

  • monitors are much cheaper than they used to be;
  • monitors are slimmer, so desks can accommodate more of them; and
  • there are more communication tools like IM, Twitter, and Facebook

The main reason given for a multimonitor setup is that it increases productivity.  According to Richtel:

One study, by the University of Utah, found that productivity among people working on editing tasks was higher with two monitors than with one.  The study was financed with about $50,000 by NEC Display, which had hoped to find evidence that companies should buy more monitors to increase productivity.

The author of the study, James A. Anderson, a professor of communication, said he had not been influenced by NEC’s funding.  He said he uses three monitors himself, but also said that it was hard to generalize about whether more monitors are better.

At the very least, Professor Anderson said, more monitors cut down on toggling time among windows on a single screen, which can save about 10 seconds for every 5 minutes of work.  If you have more than one monitor, he said, “You don’t have to toggle back and forth.  You can take in everything with the sweep of an eye.

One serious concern with multiscreens is information overload.  Another is the distraction caused by things happening on the multiple screens (for example, incoming messages), while you are trying to concentrate on a specific task.  Multitasking is not for everyone.  As one multiscreen user pointed out:  “I can handle it, I’m sure there are people who can’t.

If you have an opinion on this subject, I would love to hear it.

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This entry was posted in Organizational Dynamics, real-time monitoring, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Are Multiple Computer Screens a Good Idea?

  1. Caban says:

    Hi there. I must say that, right now, I am using multiple screens. I even helped a co-worker on this matter. She loved it! For me, ii is more than multitasking, it is the reason I can do some research and write about it easier than never before. But on the other hand, another co-worker did not like it. She prefers on task at a time, although she usually manage on multiple tabs and windows. Would it be a matter of an eye visual concept?

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