Calming the noise

By | June 6, 2018

With our addictive apps, sticky widgets, and blindly engaging interactions, we’ve created an era of distraction and fear.

How familiar is the following scenario?

You’re focusing on writing an email when your watch vibrates to alert you to a new email. Buzz. You give it a quick glance, decide to deal with it later and go back to your email. A few seconds later your phone gives a short ring to let you know a new message has come in: bing. You’ll get to that later too. Then it lights up to remind you about an upcoming appointment. You acknowledge that you’ve got to be somewhere else in 10 minutes. Flash. Bing. Buzz. Flash. Bing. Buzz. Okay, back to that email. Now, where was I?!

Even if you’re not addicted to the likes of Candy Crush, our technology is still a huge distraction. At May’s UX London there were outstanding sessions by Amber Case and Liza Kindred who looked into what they called calm technology and mindful technology.

Amber Case, author of Calm Technology: designing for billions of devices and the internet of things, proposes that “the difference between an annoying technology and one that is helpful is how it engages our attention.” She asked designers to think about what users need and when they need it, helping people to improve their lives, not getting in the way of us enjoying it! She says we want “smarter people, not smarter things.”

Liza Kindred, founder of Mindful Technology, similarly believes we should be paying attention to how we interact with technology. She believes we are at a decisive point which will decide whether technology turns our world into “a dystopian nightmare where machines replace reality” or where people start turning away from technology completely [there are a number of high-profile celebs shunning tech in the news recently]. Alternatively, she proposes, we can find a way to use tech positively to enhance our lives rather than interfere with it.

Are we facing a dystopian nightmare? Image: ‘The Garden of Modern Delights’.


This gave me a lot to think about in terms of how the teams I work with produce their products and services, but it also highlighted the regularity of interruptions I receive.

Do I really need to have a haptic alert for so much? So I started my journey to a calmer and more mindful digital world by switching my watch to only send me haptic alerts for messages (including Slack and WhatsApp), calendar appointments and phone calls. That was simple.

Next was notifications sent by apps to my phone: most of them are now set to ’none’. [By the way, I reckon some apps revert you to receiving notifications when they provide an update – which is naughty]

My third step was to reduce the noise coming into my inbox by unsubscribing to unfulfilling mailing lists. Most of that was easy too, with organisations usually requiring me to chose between one or two options. However, Linkedin presented me with 50 different settings to set notifications, privacy & data sharing on Linkedin! (13 for notifications, 14 re ads, 23 re privacy).

Am I still interrupted when writing emails? Sure. Do I still receive emails that are unnecessary noise? Yes. But do those unnecessary emails distract me from writing that email? No. And my wrist buzzes less and my phone flashes less. It’s a start.

For more information:

Image: ‘The Garden of Modern Delights’ by David Lowe uses a detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (c.1490-1510) … with a few small adjustments (watch element courtesy of Integrated Change, phone element courtesy of Pixnio, tablet courtesy of John Karakatsanis).

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