Your environment, the activities in which you are engaging, and the people that you are with, impacts and influences your ability and desire to respond to and interact with the constant demands for your time and attention. This is becoming increasingly important as the number and diversity of communication avenues increase, and how in the smartphone generation, the tendency to be always connected to these tethers has become common and expected.
That was a really long winded way of saying essentially this:
- There are loads of ways (email, phone, SMS, social networks), in which we interact with our colleagues, friends, and family (and the public)
- These various mechanisms differ widely in how we respond to them, (an urgent text message from a family member gets an immediate response)
- Different and sometimes overlapping social circles utilize these mechanisms in varying ways, (work colleagues email us on one account, while almost anyone on Twitter can send an '@' message directed to us)
- We constantly assess and adjust our ability and preferences for receiving and responding to these messages based on our situation, (we turn off our phones when in a parent-teacher conference, or we may only respond to LinkedIn invites once a week)
Some directives and adjustments are simple - silencing our phones in a movie theater. While others are more complex and subtle -attending a conference presentation but wanting to remain available for urgent messages from the office or from family members, while ignoring personal email or messaging from various social networks. In all cases, managing the multitude of communication channels and our ability to respond gets more complex all the time.
Recently mobile communications supplier Nokia released a prototype application named 'Situations', designed to help Nokia smartphone users attempt to manage these channels and contexts more effectively, and after some initial configuration, automatically. 'Situations' allows the user the configure various contexts like 'In a meeting', or 'Concert', and set up corresponding phone behaviors like setting the phone to vibrate only, allowing only selected contact group calls to ring through, or auto-responding to text messages with a 'situationally appropriate' response.
Nokia 'Situations' screen images below:
While the current capability of Nokia 'Situations' is basically limited to 'core' phone functions like ringer behavior, text messaging, and basic calendaring, it probably is not too far-fetched to see an application that takes this functionality one better and integrates with personal and corporate email, enterprise and public social networks, and whatever new mechanisms for connection and communication emerge over time. Today, we configure messaging and notification rules for these channels one by one, and no technology I am aware of lets us consolidate these rules and overlay context and situational awareness to refine the rules.
There is much talk about information overload, and while in the aggregate that might be true what seems to be more important to address the overload is the ability to segment, sort, and intelligently respond to the incoming stream of messages based on the situational context of type of message, relationship to the message sender, and augmented by our physical surroundings.
For smartphones to be truly smart, they should be able to do more than continuously beep, ring, vibrate, and poke us with incoming message after message, they ought to be able (with a little coaching), to do some initial screening for us.
Don Draper has a secretary sitting outside his office doing the screening for him. The rest of us need some help, and the idea behind the Nokia 'Situations' app I think represents the next evolution in this process.