The Case for Turning OFF Notifications

There’s a generation of us out there that were born in this weird in-between time. Born too early to be raised on technology, and born to late to remember a life completely devoid of technology. We were born in the mid to late 80’s where technology was present but you still got called to dinner by the bellowing voice of your mother on the front porch from the other side of the neighborhood. The internet were too slow and phones too big to be resemble any sort of convenience (56K Dial-up FTW). So, we know a life where technology wasn’t a distraction, but we don’t at the same time.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself constantly distracted by notifications on my phone, my desktop and my watch. I’ve even considered rolling my phone back to the prehistoric times a and switching to a simple CRUD phone that relies of T-9 predictive text as an extreme measure to stop feeling like I’m drowning in updates. Its ridiculous the number of notifications we receive – from news apps about Ye and sports apps alerting me about the impending doom facing Tom Brady at home, to my watch app warning me I’ll be a perpetual couch potato if I don’t stand up in the next 10 minutes and my mail application telling me there’s great deals at Costco (I KNOW…I’ve been there twice already this week).

Honestly, a phone good enough for emergency calls and some simple texts seemed like the only answer to find peace from a life of distraction but alas, I’m stuck in the Apple ecosystem and giving up my phone also means giving up my watch, and I like the watch because it does track locations on some pretty iconic open water swims (pics or it didn’t happen…amirite?!?). My journey to turning off ALL nonessential notifications has taken a long meandering path. The watch has always been a mostly-notification-free device reserved only for mobile banking alerts so I can catch a stolen credit card number fast, inclement weather alerts, and pertinent sport specific notifications while in sport mode only. The watch has never been a real problem for me.

Next I began turning off the mail notifications on my desktop. This actually happened by accident and it was weeks before I realized it wasn’t even on; so I left it off and then this got me really restricting the notifications on my primary workstation at home. I started turning on DND during the hours of 8am and 5pm, keeping the high distraction factor apps open on a third monitor on the edges of my 3 monitor galaxy. The calendar app now stays closed, iMessage is turned on to deliver silently, discord notifications have been turned off with the exception of direct mention (even the little red alert badge in the top left corning of the app icon is disabled). These app companies prey on every sense (if they can’t make you hear it, they’ll find a way to make you see it). 90% of the notifications on my workstation are now school/work related and I’ve never felt more productive.

I didn’t stop there. If disabling non-essential notifications on the workstation make for more productivity in my work/school life, what would it be like to apply the same approach to my personal life? I don’t like how notification driven we are and I feel like its an excuse for not remembering important things. We depend on social media notifications to tell us when someones birthday is or text message alerts to remind ourselves to be human and talk to someone. Every minute there was a new notification from someone to remind us about something that we really don’t care about or something that we should remember without needing to be told (like your BFF4Ls birthday). Disconnecting from these is hard, I think humans have grown accustomed to this notification dependent life and we know its not good for us but we can’t pull ourselves away. We’re addicted.

So I did it, I went through my phone and turned off all alerts except text messages (I have some very annoying group chats, so I muted those), mobile banking alerts, weather alerts, alerts from the reminders and calendar apps, and security notifications for my home network. It’s been bliss. I figure, if it is important enough outside of those allowed notifications, I’ll search it out; If its not, I won’t. Ive gone from dealing with emails as they come in to checking maybe twice a day. I realized I don’t really care about the running back the New Jersey Jets just traded for (I’m a 49ers fan and so are most of my friends) so if I miss the alert about Christian Mcaffery being traded my friends are going to let me know almost as quickly as Adrian Wojnarowski.

There was definitely some separation anxiety at first, but that quickly dissipated.

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