Don Marti

Sat 19 Jan 2013 09:51:14 PM PST

Notifications and Interruptions: out of style?

Is it just me, or is everyone getting really tired of synchronous communications channels such as IM and phone, and of software notifying them about things?

Steve Pavlina: Please Don’t Interrupt. When you interrupt someone, on average it takes them 23 minutes to get back to the original task, plus up to 30 minutes to return to the flow state so they can be fully productive again. Almost half of the time you interrupt someone, you’ll actually knock them off task completely, such that they won’t return to the original task right away when the interruption ends. You may think you’re only putting them on pause for a minute or two, but the actual break from the task that results from your interruption may be significantly longer.

Joel Gascoigne: Zero notifications: With zero notifications, I feel like I can get my head stuck into a problem much more easily than I did before. I never realised when I had those notifications on that they truly could throw me off my current thought and cause me difficulty getting that focus back. More than anything, I feel a lot calmer. Notifications create a sense of urgency around something that’s not important at all.

Terry Heaton: Bombardment anyone? The advertising industry assumes much in its practices, the biggest of which seems to be an inherent right to disrupt any experience of human beings in order to sell them something.

Stephen O'Grady tried Turning Off Email on his phone and tablet. Over the two weeks I was on break, the difference was startling. Most obviously, I was less focused on my devices, because when I picked them up, they had nothing new to hijack my attention. More subtle was the mental impact. Instead of a relatively constant stream of interruptions coming from inbound email, I checked sporadically, at times of my choosing. Instead of being jarred out of my vacation day by the arrival of an email that I might not have to act upon immediately but which I would unavoidably be turning over mentally while I was supposed to be on vacation, I simply went about the business of enjoying my downtime. It was refreshing.
My first day back from vacation, I debated whether to turn the sync back on. In the end, I did not.

John Scalzi's new voicemail greeting, in Killing My Voice Mail: Hi, this is John Scalzi. I will never ever ever ever listen to the voice mail you’re about to leave, because voice mail is a pain in the ass.

Harald Welte: Why I hate phone calls so much: It is simply impossible to get any productive work done if there are synchronous interruptions. If I'm doing any even remotely complex task such as analyzing code, designing electronics or whatever else, then the interruption of the flow of thoughts, and the context switch to whatever the phone call might be about is costing me an insurmountable amount of my productive efficiency. I doubt that I am the only one having that feeling / experience.

Russell Coker: Phone Calls and Other Distractions. I have configured my laptop and workstation to never alert me for new mail. If I’m not concentrating then I’ll be checking my email frequently and if I am concentrating I don’t want a distraction.

You can trace it all back to Paul Graham's Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule, right?

Or maybe we can trace it all the way back to Prof. Donald Knuth, who wrote, in 1990, Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration.

I think we can do better than that. The best early example of the notification-driven life, IMHO, is the 1961 story Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.