Much virtual ink has been spilled over whether or not the iPhone’s mute switch should silence all phone notification noises, including any alarms, or whether the existing functionality (which provides exceptions for user initiated alarms and timers) is appropriate.

The interruption of a New York Philharmonic Orchestra performance by an inexperienced iPhone user’s inadvertent alarm sparked a debate online over this issue. So far the battle lines have been clearly drawn, with John Gruber, Dr. Drang, MacDrifter, David Sparks and Marco Arment concurring with the existing implementation, and Andy Ihnatko, Dan Benjamin and Jim Biancolo against it.

This is a subtle issue without an easy answer, and I encourage any reader to follow the above links before coming to any hasty conclusions. All the above authors make excellent points and suggestions. My favorite is for a timed mute feature which would silence the phone completely for a set period, say the two hours of a movie, then automatically re-enable audio notifications.

Still, for me the benefits of the current implementation far outweigh any drawbacks. This is a feature, not a bug.

I always have the mute switch on, unless I’m expecting an extremely important call. Receiving notifications via vibrate-only allows me to be more mindful and respectful of the people and world around me.

My phone notifications are for me. The rest of the world doesn’t want to know that I’ve just received a text message, email, new Facebook friend, or Twitter follower.

The bleeps, pings and chirps of my phone are interruptions in themselves, regardless of whether or not I reach down to look at what they’re telling me. You can’t un-ring a bell. If my phone goes off in the middle of a conversation with a friend, the interruption has already happened.

By leaving my iPhone on vibrate, I’m the only one who knows, and I can make a situation-dependent choice to acknowledge the notification or not.

Unfortunately, in the proposed alternate implementation (where the mute switch silences all sounds) I would have to unmute the phone before receiving any audio notifications. That includes the alarm and timer functionality.

With this alternate implementation, when I go to bed at night I have to turn audio notifications ON in order to hear my alarm in the morning. That means that anyone who calls/texts/friends/likes me at 2 AM will wake me and my wife when I least desire it.

If I don’t want my phone ringing during the day, I sure don’t want it to ring at night.

Short of some deep redesign of the notification system, where the user can choose on an app-by-app basis what makes noise and what doesn’t in what mute mode (a very non-Apple implementation) I think we’ve got the best compromise available.