Interruption Gradient

Interruption Gradient --- JoshuaKerievsky 04 Dec 2001

... to be thoroughly responsive to how we will interact with our communications software---TheContextOfOurLives, AwarenessOfPresence, you are designing features to support multiple, customizable work modes. Such features will allow users to experience different levels of interaction based on their different modes of working. Given the need to fully concentrate on a message, a user will be able to fully control the degree to which they are interrupted or even tempted to be interrupted. Given a less focused state, in which interruptions are welcome, the user will be able to set their software to fully interact with them.

We love getting messages, but they are often so distracting that we can't get much done, due to constant interruptions or temptations.

Most modern email clients give users a heads-up-display that shows nearly everything that is happening with messages and connections and email folders. When new mail arrives, we're notified of that fact by gyrating icons, dialog boxes and tabulated message counts. If the email client accepts and displays web pages, we have the potential to be very much distracting by junk mail that arrives with seductive advertisements, complete with flashy graphics, stylized text and even accompanying music! How can one peacefully compose an important message amidst so much interaction?

Of course, any sophisticated email user will explain that their are many ways to customize the email program: hide this window like this, don't show that prompt by clicking this box in this options screen, etc, etc. But most users rarely explore the settings in their email's software---mostly because it involves navigating many foreign dialog boxes. And, even if they did know what to set to obtain the desired level of interaction, that interaction level would only be good for one working style and would need to be changed given a different working style. The trouble is, no one wants to constantly be clicking on settings in dialog boxes, no matter how many cool settings they let you customize.


Make it simple to adjust how much we're interrupted by our communications software by providing a graphical knob to control levels of interruption. Depending on where we move this knob, the software will welcome no interruptions, some interruptions or all interruptions. Let the knob settings correspond to named modes of work and let users easily customize these modes with a variety of software settings such that simple turnings of the knob will effect numerous software settings.

The Interruption Gradient will allow users to easily enter a mode of work in which they are fully focused on one task---GoAway and will provide an easy way to not get distracted by highly stylized emails---StylizedLetter.

Given a certain interruption setting, users who may see that you are currently online, would be notified that you are currently not available for a quick chat---?QuickChat. Given another setting, a chat request from a close friend would be permitted to interrupt you, while chat requests from colleagues would be recorded but not granted.

Ideally, your Interruption Gradient settings will be observed by other programs that interact with your communications software---GoodIntegrationWithOtherTools...

Interruption Gradient --- ?RonGoldman 18 Dec 2001

. . . within TheContextOfOurLives our machines need to understand what we are working on and how busy/active we are---AwarenessOfPresence. How they interact with us should be based on that information.

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When really concentrating on a task, people hate to be interrupted.

Much of what we do requires us to concentrate. For many tasks we are most productive when we can devote an uninterrupted stretch of time to them. If we are constantly interrupted by others, it is hard to regain our focus and make progress. This is such a problem in the office place that many people routinely come in early or stay late, so that no one else will be around to disturb them.

People present in the same room as we are that want to talk with us can look to see if we are busy and if so wait until later. However, our colleagues and friends that choose to interact with us via telephone or email have no idea what we are doing and they cannot help but interrupt us with a ringing phone or a beeping computer.

We can always unplug our phone and disable email notifications, but we still want important messages to be able to reach us. We need to see an important email from a coworker as soon as it arrives, but other messages can wait---especially routine messages from mailing lists we subscribe to. We want our children to be able to call us, but don't want to be bothered by telemarketers.

Some email programs allow the sender to specify a priority for a message, ranging from urgent to normal to bulk mail. Unfortunately the priority is ignored when the message is received---at most it's just displayed by the client email program. Ideally a person could tell their email program that when they are busy only notify them about new mail that is marked as urgent or messages from a small list of people. New email would only interrupt them then when appropriate.

The opposite case is that urgent email arrives but we are not sitting in front of our computer. Often by the time we return, any notification that we have urgent new email has disappeared. At most we might see a special icon attached to the message in our in box. If our software is maintaining an awareness of our presence, then it can make sure to inform us when we return, and even gently remind us until we acknowledge it.


Make our software like an attentive butler that is aware of how busy we are and that only interrupts us for important things. Make it easy for a person to specify how busy they are and what they consider important. When we try to reach another person make it easy to specify how urgent our communique is.

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One way to describe who we want to be able to reach us when we are busy is by defining an InnerCircle.

When we are very busy we might want our software to notify people trying to reach us that we are unable to answer them right now---Gone Fishin' (AwayMessages).

Sometimes our busyness lasts for days or longer and we want to minimize the messages that we receive---GoAway.

Each piece of software we use needs to respect our current interruption setting and also keep track of how intensively we are using it and share that information with other programs---GoodIntegrationWithOtherTools.

For some messages, our email software can automatically file them away for our later perusal or possibly even just delete it---MailFiltering.

Interruption Gradient --- RichardGabriel 21 Dec 2001

... in TheContextOfOurLives we want and need to be able to control how and when we are interrupted. With an AwarenessOfPresence and the ability to GoAway it should be possible to make communication software more humane ...

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The different things people do require differing degrees of privacy and concentration. People can set their answering machines to pick up before any rings are audible or turn off the ringer altogether; at home they can perhaps go to a quiet room to avoid doorbells and at work they may be able to close their doors. People want to focus on one thing at a time, and sometimes do not want to be interrupted for small matters because they would lose focus. But they may want particular, important events to interrupt them.

Computer software is usually designed assuming the "user" will bestow total concentration on that software or that the "user" will happily attend to every bell the software may wish to ring, but it isn't so. A person working hard may want to drown out some or all messages-perhaps all messages except those from specific people such as family members or an eagerly awaited note on a particular topic.


Enable a person to control easily when and why software notifies or interrupts them. A simple slider and perhaps a set of easily configured filters could be used to set a degree of interruptability to control many different configuration options in all of that person's software.

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A computer that can detect whether a person is present can additionally tailor the way it announces events, messages, and other happenings. Rather than a set of dialog boxes sprinkled on the screen and flashing icons, the computer could make a synopsis of what has happened sorted in roughly most urgent to least urgent. Given this, software could having varying degrees of being away associated with its master, and can politely summarize the routine and gently urge into the person's attention the urgent. See PrivacyGradient for a related set of concerns.


Last edited December 24, 2002
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