To fix notifications, working backwards from the right place
The demise of Clubhouse* will someday become a business school case study in the power of notifications to sink a high-flying startup. While I host regular shows about startups on the app, the insane number of notifications the app would send forced me and many others to stop notifications entirely. Of course, this also meant fewer people returning to the app.
Notifications have become a staple of our modern existence. Everything seeks to get our attention for their very urgent thing. We tend to focus on the email inbox, but we are getting more pop ups and dings from Slack and other messaging apps that are connected to several other apps, all with the intention to inform us of their very urgent thing.
I am an inbox zero person myself. My approach is to use email as a work queue and anything that requires more follow up gets stashed in a dedicated folder, otherwise the rest get answered and archived. Slack however is a nightmare for me. I have caved on a number of occasions and did the Shift+Esc command to mark all messages read. Yes, I might miss important messages, but if it is really important, they will get back.
The other thing about notifications is that they now follow us around. We carry around the office on our mobile phones, getting pinged from a device that is literally on our bodies. Do I need to even mention all the other alerts we get from texts with friends, hot TikTok videos, replies to Instagram posts, and trending Twitter topics?
If you go back thirty years ago, none of this was the case. Pagers were a thing for some people, especially in the 90’s. But mostly we lived in blissful ignorance of the urgency swarming around us, waiting to ensnare us in useless meetings, pointless discussions, and nonsensical memos. The close thing to a ping was our desk phones, and at the end of the day, it couldn’t follow us back to our homes or sneak into our vacations.
Today we are awash in an overflow of notifications. They are the dopamine fix of the business professional, drawing us away from real work and carving up our attention spans. If we ignore them, the messages just pile up when we open the floodgates again to accepting alerts.