Confirmation Fatigue: Enough with the reminders already!

April 17, 2018

I just switched phones from iOS to Android. In re-creating my new phone environment, I was irritated by how many apps and settings I had to confirm. Later in the day, I got an email from my dentist office asking me to confirm my appointment. Then I made a reservation for dinner on an app, yet the restaurant still called (and emailed!) to confirm. What’s with all this confirmation?

If you believe the hype, digital media was supposed to make my life easier and more convenient. It hasn’t really. It’s just making me tired and crabby. It’s what I call ‘Confirmation Fatigue’. Confirmation Fatigue, along with its close cousins ‘Alert Fatigue’ and ‘Acceptance Fatigue’, are making me a slave to my devices: I get paranoid that if I fail to confirm my appointment it might be canceled (I am told, though I’m not sure as each hold an unclear consequence).

These are but a few examples in a normal day:

  • If my bank suspects that some credit card transaction I’m making is fraudulent, it will deny the charge and send me a text message to confirm (and I usually don’t see the message until after the embarrassment and I’ve moved on to another vendor).
  • Just about every site I visit in the European Union (EU) makes me agree to (i.e., confirm) that it’s OK to drop a Cookie on my machine as the EU Cookie Law requires me to consent. It’s as tiresome as it is annoying.
  • My pharmacy not only sends me texts, but also emails and phones to make sure I pick up my prescriptions. They have a mechanism to allow you to opt out of these aggressive reminders, but it has not worked for me.
  • My doctor knows that if I don’t confirm, I am less likely to show. So, they cyberstalk me to remind me and harass me until I confirm.
  • After requesting a rideshare, I still find that half of the drivers call me to confirm. Why?
  • Every time I start my car, my navi app makes me confirm that I won’t use my touch screen while driving. Every. Time. There are even web sites devoted to overriding the navi certain cars. (Yes, we’ve met your lawyer, we won’t hold you responsible, just let us use the app!)
  • Apple is notorious for confirming software updates to aggravating frequency.
  • Lastly, while writing this piece, Chrome asked me to confirm updates. Sigh.


How did we get here?

We got here, in many ways, because the user interface was made too easy. The apps allow us to quickly and conveniently set appointments because the machines are so good at reminding us, we are relieved of the burdening of remembering (I.e., we forget). While these reminders and confirmations are at one level reassuring, it tethers us to the tech in ways I wish we weren’t. I am the digital bitch – just the weakest link in the supply chain. And they know it.

A generation ago we might have to look up the phone number in the phone book, dial, speak to someone during business hours, and arrive at an agreed upon time. We had to make effort and that effort committed us to what we were asking: doctor’s appointment, plumber visit, or lawncare. Since the effort to agree on appointment dates and times are getting increasingly frictionless, our commitment and our memories are more fleeting. So the machines take over and set up alerts and reminders requiring us to (re!)confirm that commitment.

What can be done to reduce the need for reminding and confirmation?

There is no easy answer. Confirmations are here to stay and largely good, but they are annoying. The real question is: Does everything need confirming…and confirming…and confirming?

I have started to ignore requests in situations where I feel I am not required to respond, like my dentist or the pharmacy. In other situations where I am compelled to respond (like the bank example), I must give in to Skynet and confirm.

To bubble up critical confirmations from the noise, one approach might be to make people think and commit more deeply. For instance, and take a random example, if you are asked to confirm whether it’s OK to send a message to every mobile phone in the State of Hawaii about a missile launch, perhaps you should have to put in some effort. Be forced to think about things: for instance, “In order to confirm sending the SMS message, you have to enter the square root of the atomic number of Manganese”.

Obviously, I’m kidding, but the reality is, technology only works if it works for people. A little research can uncover if and how the user wants to be reminded – how strongly, how often, and where. So rather than inciting feelings of annoyance, it promotes a mental release of the burden of forgetting something in our cluttered minds or alerts us before we make a mistake which totally changes the experience.