Too Many Vibrating Alerts
What’s the sitch with too many vibrating alerts on your cell phone?
In this day and age, cell phones have a vibrating motor to alert owners when someone wants to communicate with them. This feature was introduced to decrease episodes of loud, public interruption, as well as to help phone owners receive incoming calls even in loud environments, where a ringtone might not be heard.
One of the first phones to include this feature was the Motorola StarTAC, in 1996. Almost 60 million of these flip-phones were sold. The revolution had come.
It seems pedestrian to us now, but the inclusion of these small motors, in conjunction with the advent of text messaging, drastically changed the way we use our cell phones. The vibration eliminated the possibility of missing a call due to a loud room. Text messaging made it possible to communicate even in a situation where speaking wouldn’t be possible, such as a meeting or a movie theater. Over the course of a few short years, the expectations around cell phone use shifted from emergencies and convenience, to immediate, obligated, all-day-long communication with anyone who has your phone number.
Not long after, phones were connected wirelessly to the internet. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Gmail icons all became mainstays of shiny home-screens. Instead of only being accessible to those who had received your personal number (usually by speaking to them directly), the bubble now expanded to anyone who was able to find you on one of the above-mentioned social media megaliths. This massive swell of connections was still tied to the original vibrating motor technology, which resulted in a greatly increased chance a phone would be buzzing at any given moment.
The other day, while taking a final exam in a silent lecture hall of very serious students, the vibrator on my phone went off. It might as well have been playing System of a Down. I pushed through, not checking whatever notification had caused the buzzing. Eight minutes later, sure enough, another eruption… I turned the vibrate off on my phone and finished the test, lucky to escape with only a couple No. 2 pencil stab wounds.
I went about my day, and the next, and then the rest of the week, without remembering I had turned off the vibrate-alerts. I was looking at my phone all the time anyway, without any external prompting, so I saw text messages or missed calls at most twenty minutes after their arrival. I was on my laptop a lot, and text messages from other iPhones pop-up on the screen, eliminating the need for my phone to alert me at all. I listen to music or podcasts on my commute and around the house, frequently enough so that I often receive calls simply because they interrupt whatever I’m listening to. Don’t need no vibration.
It was a week full of complete conversations, uninterrupted by audible vibrations and the following moment of awkwardness, when the stream of rich, honest, face-to-face communication is cut short by, “Go ahead and check your phone,” or “Who’s texting?” or “Lemme just see who this is,” or “Was that my phone or yours?”
I finally realized the vibrator was still off when someone was picking me up from my home. I was expecting some signal when they arrived, so the phone was sitting on the table in front of me when the text came in. I noticed that it didn’t vibrate, but my ride wasn’t waiting any longer than usual.
This accidental week of vibration-abstinence forced me to confront how I want to interact with my phone moving forward. It forced me to ask big questions, and to consider drastic change. Perhaps the era of the vibrating alert is coming to an end, just as its predecessor, the ringtone, lost its star-power years ago. Perhaps we are now so connected, that having specific alerts when someone is trying to reach you is no longer reasonable. Perhaps… perhaps I don’t need my phone to indicate when someone wants to communicate anymore. Perhaps that responsibility has fallen to me.
I could at least start by turning off the vibrate alert during work hours on weekdays. I don’t think my phone-responsiveness would drop off much at all, and it might allow me ten more minutes of hard-to-reach concentration that would have otherwise been broken. On weekends I would turn vibrations back on because that’s when I’m out wheeling and dealing, coming and going, meeting up with townsfolk, painting said town red, etc., i.e., activities that require instant mobile communication.
Sounds like the makings of a last minute New Year’s Resolution, one that would be pretty easy to try out, at least for a couple of weeks. Maybe spiral it into a ‘Stop the vibrating-alerts’ movement*. Though, if I’m being honest, it might not have the visibility or the support for a full-fledged movement. Not yet.
*I mean no disrespect to any current movements trying to change an established, broken system. That’s very important work.