Thinking lazily about notifications and alerts

There are some things  that I can sense for myself. I can see something, hear something, touch something, smell something, taste something, provided it happens within the range of the sense needing to be used.

With the necessary training, I may be able to add granularity to what I sense. Some people can gauge distance with great precision, assess the weight or height of an object. Sometimes this is done with senses working in combination: a smell may impart information about taste.

Most of the time, granularity is added by our using tools: measuring jugs, scales, thermometers and the like. The dashboards we build at work are just examples of measuring tools, often providing granularity to something that a skilled person can “sense”. For example, a good sales manager will know how she is doing against target, but use a dashboard to add granularity to that knowledge.

Ever since I first heard Kevin Kelly speak of technology as something that can speed up evolution, that concept has fascinated me. The internet of things may mean many things to many people: what intrigues me the most about it is the idea of “more sensors, more actuators”. When those sensors are networked together, then terms like collective intelligence and “global brains” start gaining prominence. When the datasets collected by those sensors are labelled usefully, then terms like “big data” become more meaningful.

Connecting sensors together allows us to conquer “distance”, to sense things that are happening elsewhere. It’s been a few decades since terms like “the death of distance” were used to describe what the internet and the web represented. As mobile devices proliferated and became “smarter” this trend continued.

As it became possible to persist the data collected by these myriad sensors, and to make that data available across networks, we began to talk about our new-found ability to “shift time”. A trend that was probably first seen in messaging (centrally held paper-based phone messages, then paging services, then locally held voicemail, then remotely accessible voicemail, and so on) managed to work its way into other spheres of activity. The television industry was the one that felt it quite deeply, as people decided to record stuff to watch later; it then became only a matter of time before video on demand became normal and TV went “nonlinear”.

Whenever I think of notifications and alerts, I tend to view them with all this in mind. That the notification or the alert is made possible because I can “sense” more. That the sensing is taking place while I am able to shift time and/or place.

There’s one more thing. Filters. Something which regular readers will know I’ve spent quite some time on before, herein this series, and even earlier in this series.

When you have sharp increases in the number of sensors available, when these sensors allow you to sense things far away, when the event being sensed may have taken place earlier, then the ability to filter notifications and alerts becomes very important.

I’ve been spending time thinking about this, and plan to share my thoughts here over the next few weeks, looking for criticism, for feedback, for advice. Stay tuned.



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