Sundar Pichai weighs in on nagging notifications

Smartphones have become part and parcel of our modern lives, whether for good or for ill. The ill part usually comes with our obsessive compulsion to check our smartphones every so often, even when we're not supposed to. Some technologies, like smartwatches, and apps are designed to work around those, but they don't really address the root of the problem: our smartphones. Google SVP for products Sundar Pichai gives some of his insight on the case of smartphone interruptions, including a curious stance on their social implications.

Smartphones are said to have replaced TVs and in more ways than one. You will find people glued to their smartphone screens as much or even more than they were on TVs back in the days. Of course, it's worse because, unlike TVs, you can bring your smartphones anywhere with you. At dinners, in meetings, or even while walking, you'll see people either taking out their phones too often or even refusing to actually put them down.

Pichai does agree fundamentally that intrusive notifications are indeed a problem but that it's also too early to condemn smartphones because of it. Even if smartphones have already been in the market for more than half a decade, parts of it can still be considered in their infancy. In particular, the user experience needs to evolve to become what Pichai is calling "user centric". That is, a user experience that caters to what the users need, when and where they only need it. Perfect example would be Google Now, of course. A user centric smartphone experience solves problems, not compounds them with every single notification.

Interestingly, Pichai doesn't consider the social ramifications of excessive smartphone use as technological problems. They are, at their core, social ones. When you see people spending more time at meals fiddling with their smartphones instead of interacting with humans, that's not exactly because of technology. Sure, technology can help in filtering out interruptions, but in the end, it's more about following social norms and forming habits.

For the Google exec, it's not technology's responsibility to build around or enforce such policies, which can vary across cultures, societies, and families. It is, however, technology's job to be smart and to help make people smarter, and to allow other technologies, like third-party apps, to implement those restraints at the user's discretion.

SOURCE: New York Times