Sidequest Sunday 2: Navi and Notifications

I need to know this!

I need to know that!

Who said what?

What happened where?

We’re stuck in a perpetual need to know basis. We walk around thinking, well, if knowledge is power, then I’ll just pay attention to everything and then I’ll be the most powerful man in the world and finally people will love me.

It’s really easy now to become the most powerful man in the world. Especially if you have a smartphone and an Internet connection. Double especially if you have a smartphone equipped with Notification technology. Notifications are these neat little things that let you know something happened somewhere and you should know about it.

If you’ve ever played The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, I’m sure you’re familiar with Navi. Navi is an NPC fairy who follows you around on your quest to defeat Ganondorf and save Princess Zelda. Whenever you approach something dangerous or interesting in the game, Navi will shout hey listen! which is her way of saying, “look out! you’re approaching something dangerous or interesting.”

The Legend of Zelda is a game about exploring the unknown, questing through ancient lands populated by spooky monsters, and gaining the power of ancient gods. Ocarina of Time in particular is a game about how Link, the main character, leaves the orderly and protective life of childhood to become an adult capable of doing adult things like fishing and riding a horse. Players didn’t like Navi because Navi was Nintendo’s way of giving Link a smartphone. Navi personified the archetypal notification. Notifications are like tour guides, touring us around our day to day lives, showing us Points of Interest that we need to turn our attention toward, lest we miss out on what we paid for.

Points of Interest are interesting, sure, of course it’s productive to know that your boss wants something due by 4 o’clock tomorrow. Of course it’s helpful to know about the broken URL on your landing page, you should thank the person who emailed you about it. And it’s probably useful to know whether North Korea is nuking us today or not (Not today. I checked.) Note that these Points of Interest are all fixed. Someone or somebody else decided that they’re worth your attention. That’s fine. That’s helpful. Thank you for reminding me, thanks for letting know.

But how many Points of Interest are we missing while we look in the same old spots? How many Points of Interest are out in the antipodes of our lives? In the out of bounds areas the developers have blocked off? How many opportunities for beauty and gratitude are out there in the land beyond notifications and to-do lists?

If, for only a day, perhaps half a day, trash your to-do lists and put your phone on airplane mode. Because today is Sidequest Sunday.

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