UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Rethinking (Dis)engagement in human-computer interaction O'Brien, Heather, 1977-; Roll, Ido; Kampen, Andrea; Davoudi, Nilou


User engagement has become a much-cited construct in human-computer interaction (HCI) design and evaluation research and practice. Constructed as a positive and desirable outcome of users' interactions, more frequent and longer interactions are considered evidence of engagement. Disengagement, when discussed, is considered a best avoided outcome of technology use or a solution to problematic technology use. In the case of the former, disengagement may signal usability issues or user disinterest, while the latter emphasizes that some engaging interactions can result in negative consequences (e.g., addiction) for end-users. In this paper, we draw upon examples from HCI research and digital tools to present a more nuanced understanding of the symbiotic relationship between engagement and disengagement in order to propose a new definition and novel ways to model disengagement. Further, we challenge generalizations that dichotomize engagement (positive, continuous, accompanied by high interactivity and beneficial to end-users) and disengagement (negative, stopping use or detrimental use) and invite readers to interpret engagement in the context of desirability with respect to users' goals and perceived agency. We concluded with implications that invite the reader to make space for disengagement and move beyond usage data in the evaluation of engagement. This paper is a call to step away from the practice of engagement-for-engagement's sake, and to reflect on whether and when engagement is meaningful and desirable for end users.

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