The cost of digital notifications

by Janice Hoffman

I spent this morning enslaved to digital notifications. I meant to be pondering karmic lessons. Having spent all of this year, the days of 2022 still in single digits, consistently creating a new Google Doc journal for each day, and my right brain was feeling pretty smug and integrated with its less cooperative left half, when my iPhone 11 Pro Plus belched out a unique chime tone demanding my attention. It must have been important because it wasn’t familiar, so I stopped what I was doing in order to pay attention to this minor disruption.

I left the open doc on my large screen and looked at my phone, touched the app, and the interruption began to load. Are you kidding? An entire three seconds before I see the first screen? Doesn’t sHIpt (that’s a smiley-faced “Hi” in the middle of a slang verb past-tense) know I was in the middle of pondering karma? Perhaps they recently got the attention of retailers as an add-on to keep customers abreast of journeys from online point of purchase to customer doorstep, but seriously? Three seconds to load the first screen? Much more and I could have driven to a store.

Then, the TMI became turbo-charged: the small-change item (a hand-crocheted strap that goes over the crown of my head with a button on each end to keep my Omicron protection firmly in place while preventing my ears from becoming more Obama-like), this humble Etsy offering from some Kentucky tornado gulley, was now the star of my screen, and therefore my attention, complete with tracking number, I knew that its journey had begun in a post office in Berea, made its way to Cincinnati, then Oakland, and soon Ontario, just 15 miles from me. But wait! There’s more! I know arrival times and departure times, and I see the progress of three large cargo planes as they traverse two-thirds of the United States. Free shipping doesn’t get much better than this, never mind that is a large carbon footprint to support an impoverished Appalachian creative? Can I still feel smug about my purchase?

I return to pondering the highest and best use of my time left on earth, where my thoughts and dreams pass through deep satisfaction on their way from terrified to exhilarated. It is like zip lining. Unbelievably, you actually step off a platform into momentary freefall before flying through the air with only the promise of a harness and tether, you cross your ankles, lean back on a carpet of air, smile at the cumulus cotton balls, nod to the velvet green carpet, and float, momentarily, until you remember that you have to maintain the momentum, you must will yourself to the next platform — lose focus and you will never again make it to solid ground. Your arrival platform looms large as your propulsion ebbs, your attention is back to the eyes and hands of your handler, and you scramble to safety, once again secure in a sane, manageable world.

That’s the world I crave, not the one of managing alerts from AccuWeather and Apple, FaceTime and Facebook, Instagrams and carts, Netflix and news sources, podcasts, Prime, Spotify, Sonos, YouTube, Whatsapp, and Waze, just to name a few. So many alerts, and just as I unsubscribe to one, others spring to life from some unsuspecting action on my part, such as ordering a humble homemade item from Etsy to more comfortably wear a mask since it looks as if, for now at least, they will continue as an accessory.


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