Focus in the Face of Changing Tech and Norms

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

As long as you don't need to concentrate, ... (Image by Muhammed Abiodun, via Unsplash, license.)
Miss Manners recently replied to someone who lamented the fading-away of the old custom of restricting social phone calls to times when the recipient was likely to be awake.

The analysis of why that has become a problem is on the right track, but I'd go further. I blame texting: It's so spontaneous that it's nearly impossible for everyone in a conversation among geographically dispersed members to remember THAT ONE GUY who lives in another time zone, especially when it's a topic everyone is excited about. And once one gets into the habit of texting anytime, I imagine it can be easier to call anyone who reciprocates at any time, too.

I had the texting version of this problem when we relocated to the Eastern time zone, moving my bedtime to a common time for my folks in Mississippi to group text. I think I tried reminding everyone of the problem and having it work for a few weeks each time before somebody would forget and initiate a group text with me in it. I did eventually end up taking a similar expedient to the one Miss Manners ends up recommending:
However, you need not inform them what time they may call as you can enforce obedience by -- and Miss Manners realizes she is about to make a shocking suggestion -- turning off your phone. You are probably not the one to handle their emergencies anyway.
I have notifications for all asynchronous communication (e.g., text and email) turned off. I look at those in batches periodically. For texting, this has the added advantage that I can catch up the next day.

For calls, my solution is likewise similar, but not as drastic. It's the same thing I do with problem pocket-dialers: I set their ring tone to silent, and temporarily set calls to vibrate if I am expecting a call from a problem number.

As I have noted before, batching these things together at set times has the added benefit of making it easier to concentrate on other things when I need to. Cal Newport greatly expands on this principle in a recent recommendation (audio, starting at 42:13) regarding instant messaging in a work context. Newport's comments are especially helpful because he addresses an implementation problem: You may need to be patient and train others to accept this newer, better way of doing things.

-- CAV

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