Messages make different sounds depending on what platform or device you are using.
Welcome to [current year]. You have a “supercomputer in your pocket”. Through that supercomputer, you receive messages from your friends asking for money, from your coworkers asking for your time, from your grandma asking how many PayPals she should send to this nice prince in Nigeria. You receive messages from potential love interests, assuring you that no, their extreme angle selfies are not concealing a third chin, and from delivery services, to let you know that your pork belly sliders, with arugula that they didn’t warn you about, are arriving soon. You get a lot of messages.
How do you handle the onslaught of information? How do you know what matters? What is worth pulling your phone out for? Depending on the context, you might prioritize certain notifications over others. Your brain will learn each of the different sounds each app makes when it receives a notification, and create a set of Pavlovian reactions with context-dependent rules. Hearing an SMS text message might get your attention, but a Tinder message will cause you to whip that phone right out… unless you are at work, in which case you might not want to be seen orchestrating your sex life. Regardless, you rely on well-worn neural pathways habituated to predictable sounds. Just like driving a car or playing an instrument, getting the most out of a smartphone requires that you attune your senses to its physical outputs.
If you don’t want to drown in information, you need to be able to swim. And in this case, swimming means cutting down on the lead weights of cognitive energy, relegating as many tasks as possible to your subconscious mind. This can only happen if your brain starts to learn patterns. Patterns require consistency. Unfortunately, consistency is one thing that Facebook does not offer us.
Facebook has not one, not two, but three separate sounds to alert you to a new message:
Desktop Facebook message sound
Mobile messenger sound
Desktop web messenger sound
If I were more conspiracy-minded, I would say that Facebook is pulling this crap intentionally to take up room in your brain that could be spent on sounds for other apps, thus discouraging you to take on more. Realistically, I think this is the doing of incompetent product managers who are hopelessly siloed.
- Never use different sounds to mean the same thing.
- By extension, never use different sensory cues of any type to mean the same thing.
- Work to create consistent patterns of output so that users can allow your product to fade into the background of their thought processes.
- If your product managers cannot standardize their products, fire them.