Our devices want too much attention

If you had every cool gadget, wearable device and smart home appliance (along with a smartphone, of course) every minute of your life would be filled with a cacophony of beeps and boops from devices all demanding attention.

In a recent commentary on the InformationWeek website, E. Kelly Fitzsimmons contends that our devices are robbing us of the ability to make sound decisions. As she points out, “Today, we live under the tyranny of the beep. Thanks to our smartphones, wearables, even smart appliances, we are inundated by a ridiculous number of alerts stemming from senseless sensors, sensors that demand we make sense of them.”

But they are not just annoying, they are actually impeding our ability to make clear decisions.

“These senseless alerts are directly impairing our ability to think strategically, because they are insidiously fueling a well-studied phenomenon known as ‘decision fatigue,’” Fitzsimmons says. “Decision fatigue is real and pervasive. The nutshell version is that cognition is like a muscle. Certain repetitive exercises, such as making choices, are costly and directly hurt our ability to make thoughtful, clear-headed decisions.”

And Fitzsimmons thinks it’s going to get worse before it gets better. “With the convergence of wearables, connected cars, and other manifestations of the Internet of Things (IoT), we stand on the verge of an explosion in senseless computing.”

We all know how dependent we are on our smartphones, tablets and other electronic gear and recent studies have shown that a lot of people would rather give up chocolate, coffee or alcohol than spend a day (or even an hour) without their smartphones. And we all know how annoying it is when someone breaks a conversation in mid-sentence to answer an incoming call or text.

We love our devices but we are also slaves to them. No matter what the call or incoming text might be we absolutely have to stop what we are doing to at least glance at the phone. Who knows, it might be something important right?

In my experience, however, any piece of mail you get that has the word “IMPORTANT!” printed on the envelope is almost never actually important.

But with the growing number of interconnected devices, each possessing the ability to signal us for attention whether warranted or not we are going to be getting dozens of messages all marked ‘IMPORTANT!’ Do you want me to turn down the thermostat? Should I activate the security system? Is your heart rate too high? The freezer needs defrosting. Your windshield washer fluid level is low. There’s a donut shop ahead that’s having a sale on glazed donuts. Your plants need watering. Your favorite show is coming on. Did you remember to call your mother?

Fitzsimmons thinks we need to shift some priorities and at least try to tame our gadgets. “To make sense of these all these stupid sensors, we need a new paradigm in computing,” she says. “We need to transcend today’s state of indiscriminate senselessness and reach a state of hypersense — the ability to intuit patterns and meaning from interconnected, dynamic sensors, and use that meaning to optimize individual productivity.”