Our lives are full of information to check and notifications to notice. Email, texts, weather, and more. These all come via a beep, buzz or ring. I invariably get annoyed when my phone disrupts me for no worthy reason. Though, I also get frustrated when I miss an important piece of information.

Rarely does the worth of the content come on an equal level to the disruption of its notification. Most of the time, my concentration is disrupted by meaningless information. My phone buzzes to let me know that a trifling weekly news email came in. Only on rare occasions does the converse occur: when a disruption worthy bit of info is lost because it makes no fuss. Even rarer, do I thank my phone for giving me the proper magnitude of notification. How can I get more Goldilocks notifications? How can we get the buzz or beep to be just right, instead of too quiet or too loud?

Unless I am expecting an important call or text, I leave my phone on do not disturb at all times. This can frustrate my friends and family. However, I would far rather have a delayed response than let a ping pull me out of a thoughtful state. For most interactions this works wonders, as rarely do I need to act upon this channel of new information any faster than hourly.

Do not Disturb also has another feature. As friends, family and coworkers have slowly begun to discover, this state blocks the first call but lets the second call in succession through. This means that anyone can get ahold of me, but only if they truly need it. That physical act of calling twice functions as a filter, and only 2-call worthy questions get through to my immediate attention.

This strategy does frustrate people, but I think there is a larger idea here worth investigating. I still end up checking my phone for the backlog of calls, texts, and emails whenever I have a free second (usually at a rate of 4-5 times an hour, if I am being honest). This frustration occurs because people know that I choose to divert my attention away from their calls, thus delaying a response. I tell the world that I value my task at hand over their thoughts. This frustration can be removed by taking the rate of checking out of my own hands.

Give me a system where, over the course of an hour, I get no pings or notifications. Then, at the turn of the hours, the entire backlog comes through. This accomplishes three things. First, It allows me to focus intently on my work, play, or conversation. Second, the people whose calls I ‘ignore’ aren’t mad at me, because they know it is a technology that will hold their call. Third, even when I have my phone on Do Not Disturb, I still get small urges to check the backlog, just by the off chance that something new has come through. With the hourly notification setup, I can guarantee that a wayward phone check would lead to no new information. I believe that by completely removing this option, my mind would adapt, and lower the rate of these urges.

Though there needs to be a good way to let the important things through no matter what. Yes, ‘important’ is subjective, but it does seem like a good problem some Big Data company to solve. Already, there are some notifications that should always be let through. For example, I bet most people in Boston agree that any ‘Snow Day’ announcement, should be immediately rushed through in the most loud and obvious way.

I don’t always mind a buzz or bell, but it better be worth it.

Header photo © Sam Woolf 2017