We introduce utility-directed procedures for mediating the flow of potentially distracting alerts and communications to computer users. We present models and inference procedures that balance the context-sensitive costs of deferring alerts with the cost of interruption. We describe the challenge of reasoning about such costs under uncertainty via an analysis of user activity and the content of notifications. After introducing principles of attention-sensitive alerting, we focus on the problem of guiding alerts about email messages. We dwell on the problem of inferring the expected criticality of email and discuss work on the Priorities system, centering on prioritizing email by criticality and modulating the communication of notifications to users about the presence and nature of incoming email.