There was a time, when I was in grad school and living just off Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, when I was cued by more interesting sounds–the tolling of the amplified church bell down the block telling me that hours had melted away while studying (and I hastened closer to death but not closer to finishing Foucault) and my personal favorite, the waterfall of alcohol bottles from the Soju bar my building shared a parking lot with. . .tinkling against the dumpster at approximately 2:15 a.m. letting me know that it was time to put the books down and try to get some sleep.
I rarely see that side of 2:00 a.m. anymore and I measure out my time not in Edgar Allen Poe-like church bell increments, but in 25 minute efficiency-enhancing Pomodoro blocks. But like the bells and the alcohol bottle shower, at least those are predictable. Unfortunately, the sound that now cues me most throughout the day is my email tone, to which I have a truly Pavlovian response. They say that the unpredictable email noise creates responses akin to a gambling high–and I believe it. That low-toned ping gives me an excitement I cannot entirely explain—-does it hold out the possibility of good news? does it taunt my job-induced solitude with human contact–news from the outside world? does it merely offer a distraction–one that feels enough like work to fool myself that it is not a disctraction? or, perhaps more dangerous, does that little sound promise a fire to be put out–a race to the heart, an angry jolt to the system of stress that I cannot go too long without?
Unlike the bells and the alcohol bottles, I can control this sound–I can turn it on and off. But it seems that, after just a little while of being in its thrall, the damage has been done. Even without the lure of sound, I already checked my email twice while writing this post. And in a turn of events that would horrify even Poe, with every new system update, it seems the pings and the pongs return without me having called them forth, daring me to turn them off once more.