In order for our phones to work for us, rather than the other way around, it’s imperative for us to turn off notifications. It makes sense. Why not check my phone when you have time, when you want to look at your email/Facebook/Instagram notifications?
Social media networks have everything to gain from getting us to refresh and scroll over and over again. The problem is what we lose from it.
After all, it’s no accident those notification badges come to us in red, that when we get a new one it bounces to the top of our screen— we’re being trained to think of them as urgent, as necessary of our attention immediately, when in reality they’re not.
Social media companies pay for our attention, and all we get in return is a fleeting hit of dopamine when we get a new like. I was sick of my emotions being at the whims of an arbitrary algorithm thirsty for my attention. So switched off all my notifications.
Before, I used to check my phone to see the time and instantly be distracted by the 20 urgent new notifications.
They were silly: some were just notifying me that a random friend had posted something unrelated to me. Others were that people were selling things in my area, again unrelated to me.
Social media networks were desperate to get me on their platform, spending (or wasting) my time on the infinite scroll. Meanwhile, I was just desperate to get rid of those pesky notifications. So I would go on the platform to click on them and vanish them, only to get caught in exactly what Facebook wanted me to do.
We’re being trained to think of notifications as urgent, as necessary of our attention immediately, when in reality they’re not.
Five, ten, twenty minutes later I’d surface. Whether I was working on a Medium article, something for work, a painting, or spending time with my partner, that time was sucked into a vacuum, never to be regained. I lost my concentration and had to slowly sink back into it.
I check the time on my phone and I see the time. My intention fulfilled, I can continue, undistracted, with my work.
I have regained autonomy in my work. I check Facebook when I want to: never by accident, or because I am blindsided with an “urgent” notification.
However, this comes at a price.
We are used to being accessible to everyone, at all times. People used to Facebook message me at any time and I’d see the messages and instantly reply, whereas now hours will go by while I’m working on — well, work.
I’m no longer instantly available to all.
When I host a board game get-together evening, I’m too lazy to switch the notifications back on, so I have to remember to keep my laptop open which dings as they message me their arrival, or remember to check my texts inbox every so often to make sure they’re not kept waiting.
Worst case scenario? That text goes unanswered for a few hours. My friends wait five minutes. That Instagram picture continues to rack up likes unaided by my constant refreshing.
The side effects.
I found I was addicted to distraction. I was constantly searching for a reason to stop working and check a different social media. Before, I could guarantee that when I checked my phone I’d have at least one notification — if not Twitter, then Facebook, or Instagram, or Medium, or email.
I found that when I received no notifications, I would sometimes forget that I’d switched them off and assume that I literally had nobody trying to contact me. This has its hazards, mentioned above, but also made me feel kind of lousy until I remembered. That was terrifying — the realization that the need to be available for everyone went deeper than I had even noticed.
I found I worried that I’d miss stuff. I checked media manually, a lot. Until I realized that 99% of the notifications I’d see were unrelated to me, generated solely to falsely capture my interest. The other 1% could have waited, to be honest. It was incredibly rare that someone messaged me something time-sensitive.
And as I grew used to having my phone be my own again, I found that I grew used to the peace and power of checking my notifications under my own volition.
If you’ve been hesitating, if you’ve heard this might be good but put it off for whatever reason, if you’ve doubted: do it now. There’s no real reason I can think of to leave them on, and I join my voice to the choir.
It will be strange, you will miss them, but turning the notifications off my phone was one of the best moves I made for my productivity.