The Curse of The Notification Station
I had an HTC Desire S running Android. It was fine but was starting to feel slow and had started to develop a habit of just stopping for no reason. So, with my contract up, I wandered into the shop and, without really giving it the necessary amount of thought, strolled out with a Samsung Galaxy S4 ( I think entirely because the HTC One had speakers on the front, a kind of generational complaint ).
I took it home, set it up, installed all my favourite apps, hooked it up to all my regularly used accounts and social media veins.
A cacophony of noise and lights and vibration. Whether in my pocket, on the chair next to me, it chirped, whirred, belched and shook. My wife has one too and her’s did the same. The living room became like the bridge of the Enterprise.
Now, it’s no surprise that phones are no longer phones and, with some tweaking of settings, I got most of the noises to go away.
It does open up the general question on notifications. What are they for and how many do we really need? As I argued in a previous post, interruptibility is very important and, since we don’t feel constrained to post (as we don’t perceive any interruption) it becomes entirely in the hands of the receiver what interruptions they allow.
We don’t phone people because we don’t want to interrupt them but we can configure our phones to provide an almost constant stream of interruptions. If you’re not careful you can get quite addicted to that and the phone, as a hub of communications, serves entirely as a notification station. And this is precisely what the phone tries to be, the universal aggregator, the nexus of noise.
Trouble is, without really trying you can unleash a stream of noise over signal. Therefore, you turn everything off. And notifications become irrelevant and unnecessary and with that goes the point of all the aggregation. With a lot of tinkering, you can get it telling you what you really need to know. Just. Maybe.
And where does this go? Does the stream of notifications get broader, faster, noisier? How do we deal with that? Just opening the pipe and letting everything flash and rattle like a one-man band on acid isn’t really an option. The latest iteration of GMail is already tackling this, splitting email up into ‘types’ and accessing via groupings.
Notifications needs to go a similar way, things I want to interrupt me, things I want dump in a list for me to look at later. Aggregation is good, noisy interruption bad. Especially when it starts to look and feel like spam.
And even now, in the small hours of the morning, flashing blue lights bounce of the walls of the bedroom, someone, somewhere has done something. And they are lighting up my life. I’ll be turning that light off any day now…