The Pavlovian Pocket Principle

How do you measure the value of a particular method of communication?

Walking around the other day, I thought about something I am calling the Pavlovian Pocket Principle.

Let’s assume that most of us keep our cellphones in our pants or jacket pocket. When it rings or vibrates, as you reach for your pocket, what are you hoping for?

With my Blackberry, a vibration can mean a few different things: a text, an e-mail, a Facebook notification, a Calendar reminder. And, oh, a phone call too, I guess 🙂

When I see it’s a Facebook notification, I shrug. There is a 95 percent chance it is someone I don’t know saying something I don’t care about, and I’m only being notified because I commented on or liked something hours ago. I feel about the same toward a Calendar reminder; I tend to be very on top of my schedule, so the Calendar reminders rarely tell me something I didn’t already know.

When I see it’s e-mail, I’m slightly more excited, but again, there’s a 95% chance it’s just a mailing list and not a unique, just-for-me message from a real person. So I don’t get my hopes up.

When I see a text, though, I get really excited. It feels more real and important. Someone is directly reaching out to me. This demands my attention. Same for a phone call.

Interestingly, I feel almost the same way when I see that I have new tweets — and the way my phone is set up, I don’t even get a vibration for those. I have to check my home screen and see if the red asterisk is there. When I see that red asterisk, even if I just checked Twitter 5 or 10 minutes prior, I get excited. My friends and contacts are out there, and they are potentially saying or doing interesting and relevant things. I want to know what’s going on.

For me, the Pavlovian Pocket Principle is a good indicator of the emotional stock we put in all of our different outposts, and it demonstrates the inverse correlation between emotional value and noise. Oftentimes, when we get pinged by Facebook or our e-mail, it is not for a personal reason. Interestingly, what’s happening on Twitter is not necessarily personal to me, but it is the activity of a group of individuals or entities I have elected to follow, presumably because I have a vested interest in their thoughts and goings-on. And for those one-on-one methods of communication, like texting and voice calls, the emotional value remains high.

Hmm, how should we end this post? Let’s watch a video of They Might Be Giants performing their own Pavlovian ode, “Dinner Bell.”

Photo by muhammad.u/Flickr Creative Commons


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