Self-awareness, Technology

Pavlov’s Email Dogs

Most of us know about Pavlov’s experiments involving dogs and bells. If you don’t, here is a quick summary: at the beginning of the twentieth century, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov was studying digestion and stumbled upon the idea of conditioning. After some training, he found that if he rang a bell, dogs in his experiment would start to salivate in anticipation of being fed. Now all he had to do was ring the bell and the dogs would involuntarily salivate, expecting their next meal. This process came to be known as classical conditioning, in which an animal (or human) learns to respond to a certain stimulus  in a specific way (that is just the basic idea).

When my best friend worked at Macy’s in her twenties I noticed a series of dings over the intercom system one day. I asked her why they did that. She said that it was different signals to employees to start break or end it, to clock-out, etc. I was surprised that Macy’s would employ such a system, but it made more sense than someone walking around and telling people what they needed to do at certain times. And god forbid they announce it over the loud speaker and disturb someone’s luxury shopping experience. I asked her if she and her fellow workers salivate when they hear the dings . My dear friend who didn’t read much and is a bit blond didn’t get it, but I thought it was funny.

And yet now, in the twenty-first century I noticed that I am the one salivating at bells, well in this case it’s automatically responding to my iPhone when it dings to signal that I received an email, or makes a sound when I have a text. I noticed myself unconsciously reaching for my phone to see what important email that I just had to read, and yet all I would find is: there is yet another sale at Target or my son’s little league team posted new pictures of their last game. Do I need to stop what I am doing to know these things? No. Have I been conditioned too?

Poppy has her phone by her all of the time.
Poppy has her phone by her all of the time and is very distracted by it.

Yes.   And it isn’t just me. I see people constantly stopping to look at their phones when they make a sound. My father-in-law uses his phone only for work and he is always responding to it. Before phones he would easily work a ten hour day, now with the phone always near him they can reach him at any waking hour, and they do. He doesn’t seem to notice this.

How many times have you been talking to someone only to have them respond to their phone while trying to act like they are still paying attention by nodding while they read their screen, and then acting like they knew what you just said? It happens to me and I know that I have done it to others, especially my kids. I realized that I did not like being one of Pavlov’s email dogs. I didn’t want to respond automatically to the many sounds of the iPhone. If I was expecting something important or there was an emergency, I would be okay with it, but if that were the case then the other person should just pick-up the phone

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She should just go to Settings and turn off those dings.

and call, the old-fashioned way. So I did something drastic – I went to settings and made all of the sounds silent. I turned off the ding on both my phone and tablet so I didn’t hear double dings while sitting and reading a book. Unless I made the effort to get my phone and look at it, I was deaf to the announcement of Target sales or to Facebook telling me that I might have been mentioned in someone’s post.

It has been a much quieter and calmer existence without the barrage of dings and signals. I even turned off the email sound on my husband’s phone who responded in the same conditioned way as I did. He has yet to notice. Are you conditioned in this way too? Do something drastic like I did, got to Settings and just turn those sounds off.

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