Ever read Dante's Divine Comedy? Yeah, me neither. But you are familiar with the infamous Circles of Hell from Dante's Inferno (the first section of the Divine Comedy), right? I'm taking some big poetic license here, but bear with me as I destroy Dante's masterwork by appropriating the concept to describe how I deal with incoming notifications on my mobile: Noah's Five Circles of Cell Phone Hell.
The nine circles of Hell in Dante's Inferno represent nine types of sin, described in ascending order of wickedness. My circles describe five types of notifications, also listed in ascending order of wickedness (annoyance) - or rather, descending order of importance. Put differently, the notifications in Circle One are things I deal with immediately, while the stuff in Circle Five rarely, if ever, even registers on my radar.
Your Circles will no doubt be different; I make no bones about the fact that I'm an old, stubborn grump when it comes to who and what I pay attention to. There's also the fact that my job keeps me tethered to a computer for most of the workday. So bear that in mind as you read the list and wonder to yourself, "How in the world is this guy a cell phone reviewer? Does he even like cell phones?"
1. First Circle: Voice Calls from My Family
There are a small handful of Caller IDs that, when they show up on my phone, prompt me to drop everything and take the call. For the purposes of this post I'll call these IDs "Family," but they're really a mix of a few close family members, a few close workmates, and a few close friends. These represent the people who, if I don't take their call, have the power to make me sad in one way or another - or, vice-versa, possess the innate ability to cheer me up simply by saying, "Hi."
Voice calls demand attention, at least for me. Answering a phone requires me to stop what I'm doing, shift my mindset, and focus on what the voice at the other end of the line is saying. And, generally speaking, phone calls don't cut to the chase: There's a good deal of Hello, Goodbye, and chit-chat surrounding the real content of the message in a phone call. Don't get me wrong, sometimes that's the best thing in the world, just chatting on the phone with a friend or family member. But in all honesty I don't really like talking on the phone that much, especially when I'm trying to do something else. So it's a small group of people for whom I'll always pick up the phone.
Everyone else goes to voicemail unless I'm expecting your call, and have decided it's worth answering. I don't mean that to sound as arrogant, cocky, and antisocially nutso as it sounds. It's just the truth. It's how I stay connected and semi-sane. I'm a busy guy. I'm not really sure what I'm so busy doing, but the time seems to slip away from me on the regular, so I gotta limit those phone calls that have a way of going on and on and on.
Caveat: When I'm not working, I won't necessarily take those work calls. Unless the boss calls, texts, and calls again. Even I'm not dumb enough to ignore that sequence.
2. Second Circle: Text Messages
Texting rules. Texts are short, they're easy to reply to and even easier to ignore, and they're quite often fun. Texts can include emoticons, photos, and audio/video clips, which make them even better. Also, did I mention that texts are short? The combination of what a pain it is to type on a phone keyboard and the 140 character limit on SMSing is brilliant. By and large, if you want something from me, text me. I may not actually respond (at least not right away), but the odds are I'll at least read your text, whereas I may never actually listen to your voicemail.
3. Third Circle: Unread Email Notifications
Blinking LED, pop-up notification, or ever-growing number in a little circle on the homescreen, I do pay attention to the fact that I have new and unread Emails coming into my phone. That doesn't help with the fact that it often takes me hours, days, or even weeks to respond to those Emails, but I am aware that they're there. I have to be - so much of my work and social life is run on Email these days, I would literally risk losing my job and friends if I ignored Email for too long. In other words, I'm addicted to Email and most people who want to get ahold of me know that, whether they know me personally or not. Email me and I'll get the message, sooner or later.
Of course my Inboxes have their own Circles of Hell governing what gets responded to and in what order, but that article would take way too long to write. And while I do notice when my number of unread Emails increases, the number itself is irrelevant. Between my desktop video editing computer, my laptop, and the various smartphones I'm constantly testing and switching between, the numbers fluctuate wildly and are basically meaningless. Watch some of my phone review videos and you'll see unread Email numbers ranging from 20something to literally 10,000+. Meaningless.
4. Fourth Circle: Emails from Twitter (i.e. Social Networking Notifications)
This one's a little odd-sounding, I know. For most people, this circle would entail push notifications from social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, what have you - pings that automatically show up on your phone letting you know that somebody DM'd, poked, checked in, or otherwise did something you want to know about. Me, I keep all non-Email push notifications off (see #5 below), obsessively check Twitter manually, and currently don't use any other social networks on a regular basis. So this circle of notifications is basically limited to those Emails from Twitter alerting me to new Direct Messages.
What's funny about this is that half the time I'm notified of a new DM via Email I wind up Emailing the person back instead of logging onto Twitter to return the DM. In those cases, confusion and hilarity often ensues.
5. Fifth Circle: Push Notifications
Here's the one that many of you will probably disagree with, but remember it has more to do with odd lifestyle and odder personality than the global worth of the technologies involved: I hate push notifications on cell phones. Professionally speaking I understand the appeal, understand how valuable they are to many smartphone users, and have strong opinions about good implementations of push notifications (Android, webOS) and bad implementations (iPhone OS). When I have a new smartphone to test I set up my Email, calendars, social networks, and so on and enable push notifications in order to properly test the device.
Personally speaking? I leave them off. All of them except Email. Calendar notifications aren't really push, since they're based on locally kept data that's programmatically synced with server-based data. And besides, the only events that show up on my calendar are the ones I put there (or accept invitations to), anyway.
But notifications telling me that I've got new tweets, new Twitter mentions, am in close proximity to a Facebook or Foursquare buddy, am just a few blocks away from a sale at the Gap or rapidly approaching thunderstorm, or that someone's waiting for me to take my turn in online Scrabble? Forget it. The last thing I want is that stuff taking up my mental bandwidth or interrupting whatever it is I'm actually doing at a given moment.
Yes I'm old and stubborn, at least compared to that ever popular 'Tweener demographic that so many early adopters are a part of. But more than my unwillingness to embrace the latest trends or any anti-social tendency against Tweet-Ups and making friends via online networking, it's that I just need to reserve some mental space for my offline life. The constant flood of notifications offered up by social networks and social gaming platforms and breaking news services ... it's way too much for me. And so I leave it off.
And that is how I maintain some semblance of sanity while still maintaining the overconnectedness that my job - and nerdy propensity to love tech - demands. It may seem counterintuitive that the Phone Guy sets his Pushes to "Off," but what can I tell you? It's how I do it. So if you really want to get in touch with me, don't send me a Facebook message or rely on an @mention. I might get the @mention, but it might not be right away - it'll be when I decide to log back into Twitter. The Facebook message I'll never read.
What about you? The folks who really want to reach you know how to get to you, right? So what do your personal Circles of Cell Phone Hell look like? What - and Who - are the best ways to reach you?