I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point my laptop and smartphone stopped being places of work, creativity, conversation and leisure, and started being the dashboard of a highly-strung car.
Suddenly, I’m surrounded by notifications. Three new email messages. Five things just happened on Facebook. Four people have mentioned, DM’d or retweeted me on twitter. Six Google+ alerts. LinkedIn on the iPhone now feels the need to notify me that I can always check it to see what my contacts are up to. (That has to be the ultimate meta-reminder: an app reminding you that it still exists.)
And if I still don’t feel like I have the pulse of my system at my fingertips, I can install a shareware utility to notify me of all sorts of involuntary muscle movements on the part of my operating system and applications: “Backup complete.” “Word just updated itself.” “Photoshop just completed peristalsis.”
And it’s all too much. Because every one of those notifications conveys the same red-badged “deal-with-me-NOW” sense of extreme urgency, whether it’s a DM that my house is on fire and I should do something about it, or the announcement of the new Rabid Parakeet in Angry Birds. When everything’s important, nothing’s important.
The first few times I experienced notifications, I felt like the Terminator, with that cool heads-up display constantly alerting me to my surroundings, feeding me tactical data. After a while, though, it just feels like being 10 years old in the back seat with a pesky sibling who keeps poking you in the side.
Besides, once I have badges on my iPhone apps with numbers like “62” on them, the game is lost anyway, and all that those notifications are doing is rubbing salt into the wound.
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