Notifications: our new daily scourge
How many notifications do you receive per day? 10? 50? 100? Our day is punctuated by the notifications we receive from a host of messaging applications, business tools, applications … A day that is more choppy than punctuated by the way, as these notifications capture our attention, force us to switch, refocusing or even distracting us from an important thing to lead us to something more futile.
Notification: a solution that has become a problem
Notification is a prime example of a good idea turned into a problem. Remember …
At the beginning any information, any message, any alert usually arrived in the email inbox. So much so that the email kept interrupting us, that we no longer found ourselves in the crowd of messages, etc. The mailbox had become a protean, unmanageable tote that filled up faster than it was emptied.
Then two things happened.
The first is that we have moved a large part of email exchanges to public or professional social networks or instant messaging applications. In the end, the first ones, to remain present in our attention, never stop alerting us via notifications which… fill our email boxes. I can understand that if the email remains, it has changed function and that the content is now where it is in context, easier to manage, the fact remains that the box continues to fill up.
Then came the mobile or more precisely the smartphone. Not because it allows mobility but because it has resulted in an “APPification” of all the services we use. Each service has become an application and, above all, an application capable of pushing its own notifications on the main screen of our phone without going through the email channel, the OS centralizing the notifications of all the applications. And given that we ultimately only use a small proportion of our applications and that to remain “top of mind”, at the top of our attention the best way for an application is to send notifications, all of them started to notify for everything and anything.
And as we are constantly moving from mobile to desktop or laptop, we needed a continuity of experiences. The notifications therefore followed us from one screen to another.
In the end, not only did we not resolve the issue of interruptions linked to email, but we multiplied the problem by 10. Worse, it was accompanied by a fragmentation of information. We used to say “here I saw something on such and such a subject … I’m going to look in my mailbox”. Today we start by saying to ourselves “I saw an alert that spoke about such and such a subject but I no longer know which app it came from”.
The addiction to notifications between feeling of existing and Fear of Missing Out
But you will tell me that notifications can be configured. Effectively. Yet (almost) no one does. Three reasons seem to me to explain this.
The first is that it remains, rightly or wrongly, a “power user” practice. The average user installs tons of apps and undergoes notifications. Only the most advanced take the trouble a priori or a posteriori to specify what they want to receive, from what (application), or even from whom (people).
The second is known as FOFM or “Fear Of Missing Out”: the fear of missing something. It is the main cause of information overload and difficulty in managing information flows. While most of the personal and professional tools we use allow us to select what to receive vs. what we will consult if necessary, the fear of missing something makes us try to follow everything. And as the amount of tools, media, channels, and the volume of product information grow exponentially, humans can’t keep up, but whatever. This is even more obvious in professional tools where instead of optimizing inbound flows, employees are so afraid of missing something and being criticized for it that they follow anything and everything, especially on social networks. ‘business.
Notification: aggression or a source of recognition?
The third is that the notification gives the feeling of existing. As surprising as it may seem, a person who receives a notification – no matter what – feels like they exist. I read / heard that receiving notifications caused us to generate dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with motivation and recognition. Personally, I think that a certain volume of notifications is felt as an assault and gives rise to the desire for murder, but science seems to tell us the opposite.
And then do not count on the editors to make the management of notifications easy, or even to make us aware of their impact. An application for which we delete notifications is no longer “top of mind”, we forget it, we end up no longer using it, so others monopolize our attention. On the other hand, if in a personal capacity this is the individual responsibility, it is a subject on which companies should imperatively make their employees aware (as is done for email) and a subject besides to be taken into account in the design. / implementation of work tools, a fortiori in a digital workplace or integrated digital work environment. A beautiful subject of experience employed elsewhere.
In short, if it is “technically” possible to fight against the overflow of notifications, most of us do nothing and willingly inflict torture on ourselves. An ordeal that necessarily comes at a price in terms of stress, attention and therefore productivity.
Bertrand Duperrin is Digital Transformation Practice Leader at Emakina. He was previously Consulting Director at Nextmodernity, a firm in the field of business transformation and management through social business and the use of social technologies.
He regularly deals with social media news on his blog.