Notification Etiquette

This post is a few years old now, so some details (or my opinions) might be out of date.
I would still love to hear your feedback in the comments below. Enjoy!

On a Thursday, a couple weeks ago, I wanted to ask a friend if he wanted to meet with me on Friday morning. It was about a quarter past midnight and I was on the horns of a dillema. How should I contact him?

A phone call is out of the question, of course - you can’t call someone that late. But what about an SMS? I think that the etiquette for SMS messages are also quite established as waking-hours only. So my instinct was to message him on Facebook; but I know he has a smartphone. If I send him a Facebook message, it’ll make a sound and it might wake him up. Pretty much every means I have to contact someone creates a sound or another interruption on their end. Notifications are great, but when you live in a world where every interaction is online and instant, how do you uninterruptedly contact someone?

When I attended the Technion, I once navigated into a former TA’s personal website, and the how to contact me page really hit a chord with me:

Call me weirdo if you like, but I don’t like phones. I think that phones with incoming calls are the worst invention ever made. The reason is simple; when you have a phone, you lose control of your own time schedule. Just about anyone can interrupt whatever it is that you’re doing, whenever they want. In other words, if you like it or not, other people control you. Take a minute, give it a little thought.

So, there is no way to reach me by phone.

I really like that thought.

We are essentially talking about a fight between synchronous and asynchronous communication. In the past, the line was simple. A phone call or a personal meeting would be synchronous. A text or an email (or god forbid, snail mail) would be asynchronous. Today, it’s mostly a grey area. It’s not only technology, it’s culture. Texts are to be answered immediately. Whatsapp groups are like chat rooms and less like a slow-response method of communicating. Facebook went ahead and ruined our social life with their seen feature. My option of saying I didn’t catch someone message is now gone. Synchronous communication won, and I’m rooting for the losing team.

Can we still do something about this? How would you respond to a middle-of-the-night Facebook/Whatsapp/SMS message? What’s your notification etiquette?

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