Working in a rental unit’s kitchen (hard to claim “cooking”), my irritation with a different microwave’s timer beeps causes me to consider my own skills as a supervisor.
I look around as the timer sounds off. What was that for? Oh yes, the tea. Why would I remember that? After all, I set it all of three minutes ago. I reach for the spoon to retrieve the tea bags.
I look up, startled. Why is it still going?
Yikes. I put down the spoon and reach over to hit the stop button.
Curses. I think for a fraction of a second — just shy of the interval between the bee-beeps, thank goodness — and hit the timer button. Blessed silence ensues.
As I return to fishing out tea bags, I make a mental note. I will have to get used to a new style of interaction with this microwave timer.
My microwave at home is the epitome of dignified restraint. To mark the end of the allotted time, it bings once, quietly. It exudes complete confidence in my hearing, my attention span, and my ability to take a single hint. Of course, it could be that its failure to demand an acknowledgement that it has been attended to or even heard means that it just doesn’t give a damn. Tea too strong? Deal with it. Salmon overcooked? Pay more attention next time, kiddo. What, am I my owner’s keeper?
The microwave in this Phoenix rental, by contrast, is of the ‘Are we there yet? Are we? Huh? Huh? Are we? Huh?’ school of interaction. Each dual-toned alarm is, I expect, designed to grate all on its own, and it just keeps bee-beeping away until someone hits the right button to stop it. It’s not clear whether it’s trying to help me or to supervise me. Psst! Isabel! Don’t forget! You have to do something! Right now! Isabel!!!
My two microwaves remind me of supervisors I’ve had over the years. Worse, they remind me of supervisors I’ve been, oscillating between insufficient and excessive follow-up. Finding that sweet spot, where reminders are just right, is complicated by the inescapable variety in the task, the people, and their personal situations.
Some tasks can afford to be messed up in a moment of inattention; others are time- or mission-critical and must be done right the first time.
Some people take repeated direction and checking-up well, or at least impassively; others pretty clearly resent the hell out of even an oblique enquiry.
Some personal situations are what marketing writers like to call ‘robust’ — not prone to error — and others are accidents waiting to happen, distraction piled on distraction.
All these factors collude to make it unlikely that any given supervisor will do the optimal thing, every time, for every supervisee — as nice as that would be — but my hopes are more modest: I just want a programmable microwave. Why can’t I adjust the timer noise to suit my auditory preference? Or its frequency to adjust for my alertness as it varies with my biorhythm? Or the requirement for an acknowledgement to reflect the importance of the task to me? Or the simplicity of the acknowledgement to allow for the number of tasks I’m keeping track of at this moment?
I expect all of these are possible; indeed, some designer likely meant to work on them and has just forgotten. I wonder which reminder is more in order here: agitated bee-beeps until I get an answer, or a single, dignified bing?