hard to know whether to thank or curse Wayne Chang. When
he was 24, the Facebook engineer went home one night to
his downtown Palo Alto, Calif., apartment, fired up his
computer, pursed his lips together and recorded the
popping sound he made.
colleagues made a few electronic tweaks, and just like
that, the first official Facebook notification
"ping" was born.
pings, plings and rings of social media have grown up
along with Chang, now in Facebookís Seattle office.
But in 2008, he was simply trying to create a humanlike
sound that was "not too annoying."
days, notification sounds have become as ubiquitous as
the gratification they promise, instant cues to our
insatiable need for likes, follows and alerts.
has redefined what we find gratifying. We can binge on
an entire season of "Breaking Bad" in a single
night; Intuit, the maker of (yawn!) income tax software,
designs its products to "delight"; and U.S.
military bases have stopped selling Playboy mostly
because troops can get all the satisfaction they seek
watch the pingís transformation is to watch our
evolving love affair with instant gratification,
sometimes healthy, sometimes not. While technology has
made it effortless to bask in good vibes, it also has
fueled an unlimited source of digital gratification that
competes with the rest of our life.
Ajay Bhutoria, a Fremont, Calif., IT strategist who
recently promised his wife that he would shut off his
phone at night because she is so weary of being awoken
by the pings that beckon her husband at all hours.
just a habit that has built up," he said of his
constant drive to look at Facebook, and check for text
and calls even at 2 a.m. "Itís a new way of
showing your love and kindness," he said of
Facebook likes. "It gives you mental gratification,
like someone patting you on the back, saying Ďjob well
Stephen Ferroni, who has been known to sleep with his
phone next to his pillow, itís the "cha-ching"
tone that he finds irresistible. That sound tells him
that he has made another sale on his eBay site, and his
hand reaches for his phone as soon as he hears it.
is really the most gratifying of all sounds, the cash
register sound," said the owner of Play It Again
Sports in San Jose, Calif.
thereís a dark side to being a junkie to these
almost controlling my life," he said. "I am
always looking at my phone. Enough is enough."
enough is never enough.
and immediate gratification is the expectation,"
said Jesse Fox, an assistant professor at Ohio State
University who researches social media and their impact
like a little toddler pulling on your pants leg all day
long. Itís ĎHey! Hey! Hey!í " she said.
"You canít ignore it. It is a state of arousal
all the time."
Robert A. Burton, a retired neurologist, gathers with a
group of friends, including at least one Nobel laureate,
they complain about not being able to get any thoughtful
work done because they are so driven to check Google to
see what someone has said about them or to log on to
Amazon to see how their books are selling.
an explanation, Burton, author of "A Skepticís
Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell
Us," said we need to look no further than our
Pavlovian brains. Humans are as vulnerable to classic
conditioning as the dogs which Russian physiologist Ivan
Pavlov taught to expect food at the sound of a
metronome. Eventually, the canines, just like monkeys in
a more recent study, did not need the treat to react to
you start listening to the ping of the email, you canít
stop; you are actually addicted to the ping," said
Burton, a Marin County, Calif., resident who canít
otherwise explain the people he sees staring down at
their phones while hiking, even hugging.
former Facebook engineer Mark Slee, the explanation is
basic: "People have been drawn to communicate for
as long as weíve been on this planet," he said.
"We donít communicate because these things exist.
Rather, these things have all come to exist because of
this strong impulse to communicate."
STORY CAN END HERE)
in 2010, when Slee sat down in his San Francisco
apartment to create a whole new round of Facebook tones,
the iPhone was three years old, and auditory
interruptions once seen as rude were becoming
commonplace in meetings, at restaurants, on trains.
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
iPhone was getting more and more popular, mobile
notifications were becoming a more common thing, and
lots of the sounds for these actions are very
iconic," Slee explained in an email. "So we
wanted a new sound to bundle in the application,
something distinctive enough that people could over time
come to form an association between that sound and its
meaning on Facebook."
who left Facebook in 2012 and now produces house music,
said he was no sound expert at the time.
tones he created for Facebook were born of some basic
concepts, but they were symphonic compared to Changís
tone in the key of mouth. "To feel positive, a
sound should use notes in a major key," Slee
explained. "And it should end in a rising note,
rather than a falling note. The timbre of the sound is
quite soft, not robotic."
the end, Slee, who joined Facebook in early 2006,
brought about 20 different variations to Facebook
co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and one was selected. Both
Sleeís and Changís notification tones are still used
for various Facebook applications, a Facebook spokesman
would soon produce tones that tapped even deeper into
its users auditory catalog of memories. The sounds that
Everett Katigbak, now at Pinterest, created for Facebook
in 2011 with Jim McKee, an audio engineer who owns
Earwax Productions in San Francisco, hark back to the
doorbell, telephone, even Mom calling the kids for
dinner or Timmy calling Lassie, Katigbak told Wired.com.
on the Pavlov analogy, Slee argues that tech companies
donít make people want gratification, just as bells
donít make dogs want food. "Humans want
gratification because gratification is good," he
this narrative, I think itís easy to paint tech
companies as villains," Slee said. "But when I
zoom out, it looks like most of it is developed by
people in response to what other people want to
STORY CAN END HERE)
if Facebook likes and Twitter retweets are the currency
of gratification, technology has made many of us as
wealthy as the 1 percent.
of all types showers us with positive reinforcement. The
winks and flirts that abound on online dating sites may
seem silly until you get one yourself and consider that
digitally sourced marriages are now commonplace. By some
estimates, one-third of all marriages between 2005 and
2012 were couples who met through online matchmaking
sites. With crowdsourcing sites such as Kickstarter
ready to pitch your wildest ideas, the gratification
currency is real: a total of $612 million invested in
110,000 projects so far.
it not for support from sites born of technology, Hyla
Molander would probably not be writing a book on a very
personal topic: the sudden death of her husband when she
was pregnant with their child. The Marin County, Calif.,
woman first turned to Facebook, then she started
uploading excerpts on Scribd.com ó an online social
that insecure writer, I watched in absolute shock as the
first chapter of my memoir accumulated 7,000 reads in
just one week," she said.
comments and encouragement from those readers gave me
the courage I needed to push past my fears and launch my
recently funded Kickstarter campaign," said
Molander, 40, who raised $24,000 in 29 days for her
problem comes when we canít turn off or Facebook is
our only friend.
40, who also runs a young leaders academy, said even
when he disabled his Facebook notifications, "I
still found myself checking it."
my wife, she would have told you the whole day."
family tells him "you are here, but you are not
here." As for his promise to his wife to keep the
phone out of the bedroom? Well, she was on vacation when
we interviewed him, and Bhutoria had fallen off the
STORY CAN END HERE)
is not alone. A recent study showed that British couples
spend more time with their smartphones than each other,
and a study by the Pew Internet and American Life
Project found that 44 percent of us sleep with our
phones nearby, and 67 percent of us check our phones for
messages even when it does not beep. It is not only
young people or men who have gone from being smitten by
technology to having a full-blown affair with it.
Ferroni, the guy waiting for his eBay cha-chings, is in
his 50s. And women make up the majority of social media
users. They dominate Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest,
according to InternetServiceProviders.org.
the end, it may be a question of quantity over quality
when it comes to the happiness people feel when a ping
lets them know that a friend is texting or likes a photo
they posted. Itís a little like chugging a bottle of
single malt scotch instead of sipping it from a glass.
Research by Ohio Stateís Fox, a Ph.D. who did her
graduate work at Stanford University, shows that if
Facebook users "post something and they do not get
feedback, they feel terrible about it, and they do for a
students, she said, "have taken it down and
reposted on Friday night when more people are
dependent on socially generated feedback is short-term
satisfaction that ends when the likes end, Fox said.
"That is not the way life should work."
Schull studies what happens to people when they play
slot machines in Vegas, and a recent story in The
Atlantic magazine compared her findings to how Facebook
can hypnotize its users. Slots players get into a zone
where everything else ó the kidís tuition bills, the
dirty laundry piling up, the miserable boss ó fades
into the background, Schullís work shows. There is
only the game in front of them. Some players get annoyed
even when they win because it interrupts that state of
mind, according to Schull, author of "Addiction by
STORY CAN END HERE)
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang of Menlo Park, Calif., being in
the zone meant sitting in front of the computer hours on
end to do his job as a futurist, scoping out the latest
he also found himself unable to finish even a magazine
article without losing track, just as Nicholas Carr
discussed his ever-shortening attention span in his
seminal 2008 Atlantic piece "Is Google Making Us
who wrote the newly published "The Distraction
Addiction," said pleasure can be corrupted by
have a couple bottles of excellent scotch," he
said. "I donít feel the need to chug it down.
soon realized he needed to control technology instead of
letting it control him. The iPhone has the social graces
of a 4-year-old, he said. His solution? Sounds.
an iPad app called Ringer, he set up ring tones to
create a sort of musical ranking of the people in his
life ó a gratification barometer, of sorts.
crucial connections, such as his wife, get Derek and the
Dominosí soaring classic "Layla." Some get
David Byrneís "Regiment."
else," he said, "gets Brian Enoís ĎAmbient
1: Music for Airports.í "