Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pushed Too Far? Alerts Can Stress Mobile Users

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pushed Too Far? Alerts Can Stress Mobile Users

Article excerpt

People already can't resist constantly checking their phones for social media, messages and email. But there's one more relatively new card in the information-overload deck: push alerts.Push alerts, also known as notifications, come from apps you have installed and deliver information directly to the home screen of your phone, often accompanied by a distinctive tone. You might get one from a shopping app announcing a sale, a news app sending the latest breaking news, or an organizational app to help you cope with daily challenges.

"I have to manage meds for my mom and dad, who between them have a dozen prescriptions," said Ronnie Ledger, a retired electrician from Mount Vernon, New York, whose octogenarian parents live three hours away in Pennsylvania. "It makes it so easy that I get the push alerts when their prescriptions are auto-filled, and I can just call and tell them to go pick them up."

But both technology and behavioral-science experts caution that some push alerts also can trigger specific anxieties that build stress and compromise productivity.

"More times than not, the technology is a great tool," said Eric Troy, vice president of Penguin Management, operators of eDispatches, a New Jersey company that provides mobile-alert services for emergency responders across the United States and Canada. "Just like anything, there's pros and cons. It's just about how you manage it."

With a little of what industry insiders refer to as "preference management," mobile users can tailor their push feed and eliminate many alerts they do not want or need, or are too stress-inducing to justify their existence.

"I might have them experiment," said Teresa Leyro assistant professor in the clinical psychology department Ph.D. program at Rutgers University. "You're telling me that you really, really need these? What do you really think will happen if you don't get that push notification? Would that really be the end of the world? Let's challenge that. Let's turn it off and try it for a day, and see what happens."

Leyro says to ask yourself the purpose of the push.

"How do they make you feel? Do you notice any changes in your physiology? Do you notice any changes in your emotions? Do you become excited? Do you become nervous? Do you become irritated? And maybe we can find some patterns there."

Different situations call for different needs, of course. If a storm knocks power out, a push from PSE&G might be welcome.

"We are emergency responders and deal with first-responder situations when it comes to weather events," said Tracy Kirk, manager of customer technology PSE&G, a major supplier of energy to New Jersey. "From that perspective, it is critical information that customers really welcome."

But push alerts for appointment, billing and other customer-service matters also are popular with customers, according to PSE&G surveys. …

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