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Next Thing Your Phone May Detect: Boredom

In addition to collecting location, bandwidth use, steps taken, altitude, and ten other metrics, your phone may soon also track when you're bored.
Image: A man uses a smart phone
Distraction by device at the dinner table is very common indeed, a new study suggests, but what remains unclear is the impact on kids.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

In addition to monitoring your location, bandwidth use, steps taken, altitude and 10 other metrics about you all day, your phone may soon also track when you're bored. A study (PDF) by researchers from Spanish wireless company Telefonica Group proposes a way to measure a smartphone user's boredom using several easily checked factors.

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The researchers had 54 participants install an app that monitors various phone statistics, and periodically asks the user to rate how bored they are, on a scale of 0-4. They found that boredom is most common among people who haven't received communications recently, but have sent communications recently. Boredom was also higher in male participants and later in the day.

Using this data, the team created a model for predicting who was bored and when. They then sent stimuli — in this case, popular articles from Buzzfeed — to users, and found that bored ones were more likely to take the bait.

Example of a notification the participants would receive.
Example of a notification the participants would receive.Telefonica Research

This is just an initial study, due to be presented at a conference next week, but the possibility of your phone knowing when you need something to do is a strange one. It could be used to send you articles you saved for later, of course, or to suggest something from your to-do list — but it could also tempt you with ads when you aren't too busy to pay attention.

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The team plans further experiments to solidify the statistical basis of these early results, and to find out what works best to distract or entertain bored users — if anything.