Daily question: Delayed impulse?

First came this:


It’s the hope that an enforced moment of sobriety or focus just before hitting that email Send button will prevent what you may regret later on:

When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you’re really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you’re in the right state of mind?

Now this math-based lamp concept by designer Mingyu Jeung:


To turn on the lamp you need to solve a random math problem, even if it means doing a little calculation on the enclosing board to get the answer right:


In the physical world, we’ve had devices to delay impulsive behavior like alcohol breath analyzers in cars to prevent drunk driving or double keys to activate potentially dangerous devices. In the virtual world, this is somewhat new. Imagine overlaying carbon-emission preserving impulse-checks on all sorts of online transactions that may result in downstream physical activity, like packaging, transportation, size, consumption, etc.

Can you think of any “delayed impulse” techniques in the digital world?

9 thoughts on “Daily question: Delayed impulse?

  1. Thibaut: “Computers should help us learn before we act, but not interfere with our outputs”

    We agree, hence the title: delayed impulse.

  2. “And yet that’s what computers are for, n’est-ce pas?”
    Using computers to visualize an intended product of thoughts, the possible form of an authored content, that’s what they’re here for, as tools, helping us moving forward quicker. But having computers stepping into the “authoring” part is something I have trouble accepting, unless if it’s for repetitive tasks that you feel could almost be automated.

    In the example you gave, there is a difference between the rules and the atmosphere of a group. The rules are the administrative kind of things computers shoud help you with, these repetitive tasks mentioned above.

    The atmosphere of a group, in the other hand, is much more delicate, subtile, and its evolutive nature is an expression of our freedom of thoughts that we should preserve (this may sound naive, but I gave it a lot of thought and I’m ok with it). So I would leave computers out of this area of human relations, and use personal analog memory instead. I wouldn’t like computers to think for myself about different possible forms of inputs I could give in a possible group, suggesting me another way to say what I just wrote, and all I would have to do would be choose, click, send. Even if it would make interactions between us faster, it would render them far less valuable.
    Computers should help us learn before we act, but not interfere with our outputs, as wrong should they be. They should be like wise fairies on our shoulders, murmuring in our ears, but never take control of our hands or mouth.

  3. Thibaut: “the maturity to visualize the consequences of our actions before we act.”

    As you say, this is not all that easy. Kids have a hard time learning to pre-visualize consequences, so it’s an acquired habit. And yet that’s what computers are for, ne’st pas?

    If I’m subscribed to, say, a dozen groups, do I really have to remember every time I send out a response just what exactly the rules and atmosphere in a specific group are? Do I need to remember group-specific rules on quoting, signatures, digests, patent attributions, salary discussions, code/picture attachments, HTML/text format, etc?

    When it comes to impulse-delay analytics, we’re living in the dark ages.

  4. gizmometer: “an interface for online discussion forums that took a user’s post, parsed it, and used the post to search the forum.”

    That sounds like a cool idea. Ideally, you could sell the notion to, for example, Yahoo or Google so that they could embed it into their Groups apps. Microsoft always talks about heuristic analytics for email processing in the context of personal productivity, but they never ship anything.

    One place we may see more impulse manipulation is cellphones, because the cost of transaction and screen manipulation is much higher there. Location-aware apps do this since getting the GPS data and doing relationship look-ups are relatively easy to do. Analytical parsing to suggest possible paths of navigation, transaction, cost-of-action determination, reminders, alerts, etc., are harder to do, but likely with much bigger pay-offs if done well.

  5. Several years ago I designed and built an interface for online discussion forums that took a user’s post, parsed it, and used the post to search the forum. Based on the results of the search, the user was presented with previous posts and threads related to his post. He was then given the choice to post his comment/question to a different forum (one deemed more appropriate to the content of his comment/question) or to a different thread (also one deemed more appropriate) or even to withdraw his post. The intention of the work was to eliminate the need for FAQs, but the interface also acted as an impulse delay. The hope was that a user who wanted to voice his anger felt less inclined when he saw that he was just adding to other people’s rants and would feel less satisfaction since his expression no longer felt unique. I could not test this interface because I could not find a forum who would participate in a live study.

  6. Context analysis as you just described sounds really better than a by default solution, which becomes less effective the more you encounter it. Reminds me the problem I have every morning with the snooze button of my alarm clock.

    In case of email, why not shrink the Send button if the context / content correlation becomes sensible ?
    Change its color to red, randomly locate it on the screen ? Change “Send” for “You’re going down a dangerous road starting now”… ?

    In the end, the real solution remains responsibility, maturity. It doesn’t answer your question, but we could try to behave less like kids and have the maturity to visualize the consequences of our actions before we act. Learn to use email as we use fire, knifes, cars and parachutes. And alarm clocks.

  7. Jan: “What if e-mail, or the browser, analysed the things you write…”

    I think analytics rather than app or system level preferences have a better chance of working. As it happened with Vista security prompts, users will grow to ignore them or turn them off completely if/when given a chance.

    So rather than making these delayed-impulse interruptions, I think just-in-time analysis of not just content, but also destination, social networks, occurrence frequency, time/location/machine metadata and the like could be parsed to make much better decisions by the system to generate better prompts. IOW, profanity may be OK with your best friend but not necessarily a public venue, so the system should figure out that much for context.

  8. This is just a thought. I have noticed on social sites in Sweden, where users are anonymous, how the social protocol breaks down. People write the most outrageous things to each other. Not so on for example US blogs. What if e-mail, or the browser, analysed the things you write for profane language, and before it sent it, asked you if you really wanted to. You would probably need a switch in System Preferences to activate this function. Maybe it’s not a very practical function, as people don’t like to be told by a machine, but it would be fun. The courteous Mac…

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