Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Why the numbers don't add up on my iPhone

Today, we've become used to the interruptive nature of the telephone

When the first telephones were installed in homes in the late 19th century, the excitement with which a new owner ran out to answer, on hearing it ring, was matched only by the resentment of the person they'd been quietly playing cards with before the call came in.

Today, we've become used to the interruptive nature of the telephone; there's an assumption that the call is probably coming in for a good reason and, by and large, we're happy to put whatever we're doing on hold in order to take it.

But smartphones now ding, vibrate or flash for many different reasons; these are termed 'notifications' but they're more like disturbifications, interruptifications.

My phone offers terrifying flexibility when it comes to controlling the way it alerts me, and adjusting the settings represents a major headache. Banners, lock-screen alerts, app icons, alert sounds and display preferences can be minutely adjusted for every individual app I own; I could set aside an hour or two to optimise all this but, in practice, I delve in furiously when I feel I'm being over-notified and turn everything off. Days later, I realise I haven't been notified about things I wish I had. It's maddening.

One solution is to make the process of dealing with notifications slightly less annoying. Apple recently announced 'interactive notifications' for its forthcoming iOS8 operating system; you'll be able to, say, reply to messages from the alert itself rather than having to switch to another app to do so.

But it still doesn't address the balance between need-to-know and nice-to-know, and how notifications should be prioritised. There's a growing assumption that we've all developed a Must Act Now mentality. This was perhaps proven this week with the news that Apple has just filed for a patent for displaying notifications on an iPad cover. Not the iPad; the cover.

Of course, there is always the nuclear option of turning the phone off, or the thermonuclear option of smashing it with a brick.

Let's hope technology finds an answer before I get that tetchy.

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