2555: Notifications

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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It's 10:34 PM for this user. They really need to get going, they have a thing early tomorrow. Are you sure you want to notify?
Title text: It's 10:34 PM for this user. They really need to get going, they have a thing early tomorrow. Are you sure you want to notify?


Many devices will notify the user when something of possible interest occurs (e.g., a new phone call is received, a load of laundry is done). Some, such as the instant messaging software Slack, allows you to turn notifications off while you're offline or away (or just don't want to be disturbed). Such a function would be desirable in real life, as illustrated here. The sender can sometimes override this and notify the user anyway.

White Hat is telling Cueball and Megan about "another thing that annoys [him] about people," which means that either the strip begins after he has already vented a long series of gripes, or he is prone to spontaneously airing one of his many grievances non sequitur. (Both of those traits could be something that annoys Cueball about people.) Cueball responds by "turning off his notifications" from White Hat. White Hat immediately falls silent, sparing Megan and Cueball from further boring "conversation". Maybe Cueball has picked up the "Commented" trick, White Hat is thrown off by the unusual statement, or it could be that he just naively takes Cueball at his word. Either way, now that he "knows" that he will not receive any further immediate engagement from Cueball, he thus gives up, for the time being, talking at Megan and Cueball about his annoyance(s). If he believes the premise, he might recite the rest of his conversation as soon as Cueball supposedly turns notifications back on. His behavior is reminiscent of a user who is logged into a chat server but is "away from keyboard" and totally disengaged.

Megan starts to ask Cueball what he's doing, but Cueball shushes her to let it 'keep working' -- presumably, if Megan speaks up, she might alert White Hat that Cueball is still listening and draw him back into conversation.

In the title text, this is taken even further by combining this with a standard real-life reason (or excuse) to leave a social situation: that the person has to leave because it is getting late. It is often used when someone really has a thing early the next day and wants to get home early to get enough sleep to be prepared for the "thing", but the vagueness of the thing suggests that they just want to get out of uncomfortable company or situations.

The specific time, 10:34 pm, informs the messenger (who could be anywhere) of the user's time zone, and tells the one that wishes to notify that it is past the normal bedtime in the user's time zone. And this is why the program would normally ask if they still really wish to notify them, since they would risk waking the recipient up. This could cause annoyance if the message is not urgent and important. In this case, however, it is clear he is awake and wants to leave the social situation, supposedly because of a thing he has the next day. In this situation, it is funny because apparently it's Cueball talking about himself in the third person to another person who knows they are in the same time zone, and unless all of the characters are out really late it's unlikely that it's actually that late at night in "Cueball's time zone" at the moment.

An alternate explanation is that the comic highlights how strange it is that the "This user has notifications off, Notify anyway?" pop-up can sometimes leave one paralyzed with indecision, despite the fact that it does literally nothing to stop you from sending the text as normal. If it pops up when you send a text, now you have to decide whether your text is important enough to notify the person you have texted, even though they have notifications off. It's the same situation as if you're told that your boss is doing something important. You could be paralyzed, trying to figure out whether "the machine ran out of batteries" is more important than whatever generic "important thing" the other person is doing. Plus, now you have to factor in things like whether your interruption will cause more harm than help, how long it'll take, etc.

If Cueball just "Blocked" notifications from white hat, White Hat would simply be annoyed and just keep talking (because blocking implies that you just don't want to talk anymore.) However, by giving White Hat the option to "Notify anyway", Cueball paralyzes White Hat with indecision, as shown by him not doing anything for multiple panels.

This is ironic, as when users are given the option to "Notify anyway", it basically renders the action of turning off notifications useless because anyone can bypass the system. However, it still works to stop most message notifications, because no one wants to bypass the filter and risk annoying the person who turned off notifications. This may be why Cueball shushes Megan to let it 'keep working'; If Megan speaks up, White Hat might realize that Cueball's 'filter' does literally nothing to stop his messages, and White Hat would resume his rant.


[White Hat, Megan and Cueball are standing next to each other. White Hat is separated from the other two figures by a small margin.]
White Hat: And another thing that annoys me about people is...
Cueball: This user has notifications turned off.
[The camera zooms in on Megan and Cueball. Megan turns to look at Cueball.]
Cueball: They will see your messages when they're back.
Cueball: Notify anyway?
[The camera zooms outward to show White Hat. Megan turns back to look at White Hat. All three figures are standing silently.]
[Megan turns to look at Cueball again.]
Megan: What are you--
Cueball: Shhh- It's working.

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I wrote that the time in the title text does not seem to have any special meaning, the only thing a quick google search gave me was the bible verse "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." which is irrelevant to the comic as far as I can tell. Is there something I missed? -- (talk) 08:52, 16 December 2021 (UTC)

I assume it has something to do with time zones, but not sure. 09:40, 16 December 2021 (UTC)
Yes for sure, it is late in the recipients time zone. And thus the program asks if the notification is so important at this later hour. On the internet you are often in communication with someone in another time zone. Has updated explaination.--Kynde (talk) 10:17, 16 December 2021 (UTC)
But it doesn't have a special meaning. 10:32 or 10:41 would have done the same job. --Lupo (talk) 07:15, 17 December 2021 (UTC)

Is it just a weird coincidence that today’s smbc is also about how to stop a tedious conversation? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

It sure is funny. The SMBC comic from 2021-12-15, Econs, was about paying someone to stop with a boring discussion. --Kynde (talk) 10:21, 16 December 2021 (UTC)

I got to thinking about the difference from saying "I perceive that you have mistaken me for someone who cares", or very often "someone who gives a (vulgar word)". I suppose the difference is that talking about Notifications means "Not just now" or "That's enough for now", but you could just say that. It doesn't forbid continuing the subject later. Robert Carnegie [email protected] 11:15, 16 December 2021 (UTC)

Are you sure Cueball is sending notification to White Hat? When I saw this comic I thought that White Hat wants to say it annoys him when someone ignores others notifications settings and, voilà, Cueball just does it the same moment. Tkopec (talk) 12:58, 16 December 2021 (UTC)

Well, if White Hat is complaining about anything like that (we never even get a hint what) it should be more about those who sets to ignore notifications (what Cueball does) or else it is about those who set about to ignore others' "ignore-notifications" settings but then he turns out not to be that kind of annoying person, as he actually respects that situation.
Whether Cueball knows what is about to be (re)complained about, from hearing this tiraid multiple times, I don't know. Or maybe it was mentioned as the pre-"...another thing" spouting of opinion, and thus quickly inspired him to act upon the suggestion.
It doesn't really matter. Whatever Randall might have conceived as being said before/after the short slice of Whitehat's rant, he gives no direct clue so it's likely to just be a generic stream of opinionated verbosity, making Cueball even more clever and inspired to have discovered this 'life hack' to cut it short. A bit like telling Sheldon that something is a "non-optional social convention".
...incidentally, one of John Finnemore's radio sketches in his 'Souvenir Programme' series (if you can, look it up (the whole series!) to listen to - I'm sure xkcders would be prime candidates to enjoy, or at least be able to appreciate, the (over?)intelligent humour) was basically if the Russian Revolution were being organised via email, with one character's involvement being (mostly!) a bog-standard Out Of Office reply. Best listened to, although if you can't you can definitely find a script-transcript site or two with the right Google-Fu. 13:46, 16 December 2021 (UTC)

I don't think it's necessarily "past their bedtime"; that's an oversimplification. I think it's implying "they need to go home, prepare for bed, and hopefully get a full night's sleep by the time they have to get up in the morning." It might easily be that they're fifteen minutes from home and want to go to sleep by 11:00 PM. It also might not be their "normal" bedtime; they specifically have "a thing" early tomorrow, an important event which presumably isn't a normal occurrence. 20:01, 16 December 2021 (UTC)

10:34 is time which can easily be past "normal" - meaning, week day - bedtime and at the same time not that late on party or other social activity. -- Hkmaly (talk) 00:30, 17 December 2021 (UTC)
Sure, it could be past their bedtime, but you're making an assumption. People prefer different amounts of sleep, have different regular schedules, consider different times "early", etc. It's not necessarily true that it's past their normal bedtime, so the explanation shouldn't make that unfounded assumption. 05:37, 19 December 2021 (UTC)

Joke's on White Hat, I put my phone in airplane mode at night. Ain't no notifications waking me up except my alarm. 05:38, 17 December 2021 (UTC)

...but it's also likely to have flown away, surely? ;) 11:56, 17 December 2021 (UTC)

I don't have the time nor care to fix it myself, but this explanation acts as if Cueball and White Hat are in the same timezone, but "10:34 PM" could mean the same thing "Good Morning" means in XKCD 448. Tsumikiminiwa (talk) 20:39, 17 December 2021 (UTC)

Does anyone know what time #2555 was posted to xkcd.com? It would be entertaining if it was near 10:34pm in Randall's time zone.

I thought the comic was about how the "notify anyway" option sort of leaves you paralyzed with indecision. Because whenever it happens, you have to decide whether your text is important enough to notify them about, and how rude it would be to bypass the turned off notifications, is it worth it to keep notifying them, etc. Because White Hat is just standing there, not moving or doing anything after cueball blocks notifications, could this be an alternate explanation? (for instance, if it had just been that notifications were turned off with no bypass option, White Hat would simply be annoyed and probably keep talking anyway. But because he's given the option to bypass the filter, now he has to make a rather complicated choice and is paralyzed with indecision.) Edit: Should I add an alternate explanation?

(You should at least add four tildes to anything you add here in Talk. I've been seeing quite a few lapses from eager (new?) editors, recently, who don't realise the usefulness of at least giving their IP (discoverable anyway if, like me, you haven't got a login yet) and a datestamp. You can 'fake' it if you want, but it helps put breaks between replies, especially if at the same hierarchic level of indent. But don't mind me, just hoping it helps explain things.)
Yes, I think you're on to something. Maybe not the main thrust, but that's definitely an effect. Similar to being told by the boss's PA that he's doing something important, is it an important interuption? I mean, if you don't immediately inform him that one of the cross-beams gone out of skew on the treadle, that could be worse than doing so and interupting whatever vital (or 'vital') bossy thing the boss is currently doing. But what if it's the other way round? 03:08, 20 December 2021 (UTC)
Got it, i'll add an alternate explanation. (and yes i'm new, thanks for letting me know!) -- 123.456.789.000 23:14, 28 December 2021 (UTC)
Alright, i added an alternate explanation. I dont know if its very clear or in the right place or whatnot, so please feel free to edit it. -- 123.456.789.000 01:39, 29 December 2021 (UTC)