iPhone OS Learns a Trick from a Nobel Laurate

Apple iOS sports a Apple iOS sports a “Do Not Disturb” feature

If you’ve ever moved your alarm clock across the room so that you have to get out of bed to turn it off, you understand the difference between good intentions and good behavior.
You also understand the notion of precommitment: making a decision today that significantly tips the scale in favor of the behavior that best serves your long-term interest.

The need for things like precommitment arises not because the things that are good for you suck, but rather because they tend to suck up front.  That is, many good behaviors require you deal with an up front cost (e.g., get out of bed) for a downstream gain (e.g., attend a career-enhancing meeting).

Thomas Schelling, who was awarded the Nobel prize in economics for his work in game theory and international conflict, understood the power of precommitment.  In his 1978 paper in The American Economic Review, Schelling noted:

Many of us have little tricks we play on ourselves to make us do the things we ought to do or to keep us from the things we ought to foreswear. Sometimes we put things out of reach for the moment of temptation, sometimes we promise ourselves small rewards, and sometimes we surrender authority to a trustworthy friend who will police our calories or our cigarettes. We place the alarm clock across the room so we cannot turn it off without getting out of bed.

With iOS 6, Apple introduced a new feature called “Do Not Disturb.”  DND allows you to set up – in advance – a window of time during which all incoming calls, alerts and notifications will be silenced.  It even allows you to let some calls through (e.g., from your spouse) while holding off others (e.g., from your boss).

My crude version of DND is to either turn off the ringer or leave my phone at my desk.  Do any of you use the DND feature? How is it working for you?

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