The Nature of Notifications | PDD

The Nature of Notifications


on October 10 2012

As our lives become increasingly busy, instantaneous communication feels a necessity. Notifications have had a great impact on how we use our devices. We don’t need to keep checking our smartphone every few minutes awaiting a response – we don’t have the time. But are they starting to take over?

Whilst discussing the idea of ‘smart devices’ with a colleague and how everything seems to have that word attached to it now – we started talking about the idea, and result, of seamless connectivity; that if there’s something you should know about, your surrounding objects will tell you. Whether it’s a smartphone notification, an alert on your smartwatch, or just a reminder on your smart TV – it’s all there to keep us connected and to make our busy lives just that little bit, well, easier.

Whether it’s business or personal, being constantly connected and ‘in the know’ seems to be a requirement in our day-to-day lives. If someone has sent you a message, or mentioned you in a tweet – you want to know about it instantly and if possible, you’d like to read it just as quickly. This may be influenced largely by the nature of notifications. From apps such as the popular mobile chat service Whatsapp which sends a vibration or tone for every single comment that comes through during a conversation (which can get a bit overwhelming at the best of times), to notifications that take up the centre of you screen, giving you no option but to look at it; they are all there to keep us connected and ensuring we don’t miss a thing. My smartphone, for example, has a small LED light which shines different colours depending on what I’ve received; an email, text, missed call or if it’s just low on battery.

With so many accounts linked to our smartphones, and therefore constant alerts getting sent through, the need for various types of notification is growing. To the extent that we’re now able to customise our notifications to the point that we can receive different vibrations as well as ringtones depending on who is calling or texting us. It’s moved on a bit since my trusty Nokia 3310.

Of course, being permanently connected through your smartphone, tablet or even smartwatch has its benefits. But when does it all become a bit too much? Is it possible to really switch off… and do we really ever want to be? I find myself getting irritated by notifications if they become too frequent, to the point where I’ll sometimes have to switch my phone onto silent – yet, I can’t help but check the notifications and see what messages I’ve received not too long afterwards.

If you think about it, how many times in a day do you glance at your phone even when no notification has come through? It may be because you think you might have heard a notification sounding, but more often than not, I find myself checking it regardless. Why is that? Is it ever really anything urgent, or are we paranoid that we might be late receiving important news? There may be many psychological factors behind it, studies have shown that social media sites have increased peoples’ anxiety levels and changed their behaviour patterns. Has this become more accentuated as a result of smartphones and the ability to access our social media channels on the go?

Many people have speculated on what ‘smart’ devices will become years from now but if it’s anything like Google’s upcoming Project Glass, then staying connected and keeping up with your notifications will become effortless. And quite hard to get away from. For those who haven’t seen the video, it’s definitely worth a watch.

Although the idea of a pair of glasses replacing all the functions that your smartphone currently serves may seem more Star Trek than fact, Google state that it’ll be available to consumers as early as 2013. A fashion designer even had her models wear Google’s Project Glass during New York Fashion Week.

They certainly look interesting on. Personally I remain a sceptic, but they are undeniably cool in a “wow the future is here!” kind of way. Again, going back to the notifications and alerts aspect of smart devices, when you’re cycling at 30mph and trying to weave between two double-deckers in the heart of London, a bubble popping up in front of me telling me that John Smith has sent me an email seems, well, impractical.

What other ways will notifications engage with the senses in the future beyond sounds, lights and vibrations? And how will they adapt to our ever-changing, demanding lifestyles? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Personally, if I ever do invest in a pair of Google’s glasses, I think I’m going to need quite a few weekend trips to a serene countryside with my glasses ‘forgotten’ and left behind…