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Read Alerts or Red Alerts?

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Alerts and notifications

At some point, it's time to rethink or reinvent a process, workflow or an entire approach to technology. Alerts and notifications now fall into this category.

A basic law of technology is that every solution creates at least 10 new problems. And when you start dealing with the inevitable multiplier effect that results from layers of technology, you eventually wind up with an exponentially more complicated working environment—and life.

At some point, it's time to rethink or reinvent a process, workflow or an entire approach to technology. Alerts and notifications now fall into this category.

Over the last several months, I've switched off alerts for news bulletins, as the vast majority of them aren't important enough to be worth interrupting me several time a day. I've also turned off Facebook notifications because there's absolutely no need for a constant dopamine e-drip.

In addition, I've shut down alerts for a number of other apps and services that deliver an information stream that's somewhere between inane and useless. The constant blitz of minutiae is way too distracting, especially on a mobile phone or, even worse, a smartwatch.

Although many companies allow some customization for notifications and alerts within apps, and iOS and Android devices have much better controls than in the past, it's still a mess. Simply put: Notifications need to get a lot smarter.

For example, every month I receive a text alert that my credit card payment is due by a certain date. That's great, unless I've already scheduled a payment or paid the bill. At that point, it becomes just another bit of noise and nuisance in my already overtaxed and overtexted world. Why can't the credit card company automatically check its internal system to see if I've already scheduled a payment before blasting out a text message reminder?

As mobile technology emerges as the primary way people receive information, businesses must also examine internal apps and understand the time, context and other factors for sending emails, text messages, notifications and alerts to employees, customers and others.

Most of us are already overworked and overburdened. Ratcheting things up further, whether inadvertently or intentionally, serves no purpose other than to generate additional stress that can lead to burnout. At the very least, receiving too many notifications—and especially too many irrelevant notifications—increases the odds that the important stuff will wind up ignored or overlooked.

The message? Make any and all types of communication count. Otherwise, instead of alerts that you'll read, you will likely wind up with red alerts.

This article was originally published on 2015-04-29
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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