Time to turn off those endless pop-up notifications on your mobile
They pop up at the most inopportune times, but do we really need all these interruptions?
My phone regularly dings, beeps and vibrates with ‘essential’ notifications from apps
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”
It sounds profound, but this quote was actually an interruption, a notification on my smartphone exhorting me to meditate.
It was ironic that it was from an app that I haven’t used in months. Every day, a reminder pops up, and every day I ignore it and swipe it away. It has become background noise, the very thing that it seems to be encouraging me to discard.
Like most people these days, I have a notification problem. My phone regularly dings, beeps and vibrates with other “essential” notifications from an app, whether it is to alert me to a new message (WhatsApp), prodding me to return to pore over old memories (Facebook) or trying to sell me another add-on content pack (too many children’s apps to mention, but Pinkfong springs to mind as one of the worst offenders).
My security system notifies me when there is movement outside my front door, a setting I’ve had to change recently because the windy weather has meant my phone notifies me of almost every movement of the tree in our front garden. It also tells me when a camera goes offline, a fact I’m already aware of because I”ve deliberately chosen to switch it off.
Apps remind me to work out, to pick up online courses again, to track my food intake, to double-check my travel plans, to check my spending. They come thick and fast; even my five-year-old knows how to dismiss a notification. They’re mostly ignored. Some get the hint occasionally, and ask if I still want to receive notifications.
My email app regularly disconcerts those who prefer a nice clean screen, with its disturbingly high count of unread emails presented in the red badge. As of Wednesday morning, there were 16,567 unread emails. Sorry if you are among them, although it’s safe to say 16,566 are a mixture of spam, marketing and unread newsletters that I swore I would come back to at some point.
Every week, Screentime tells me how much time I’ve spent on my phone – far too much, is the usual answer – and how that compares to the previous week, adding to the stress of it all.
Notifications pop up at the most inoppportune times, dragging our attention away from our lives and pulling us back to our screens.
All the data stored in the cloud, hanging around in huge centres consuming energy and likely destined never to be looked at again. Our data use is exploding, which means new infrastructure to store it, more power to run the data centres, more pressure put on limited resources.
It’s not just about your data footprint, though. Our phones are stressing us out. Studies in the past couple of years have focused on how smartphone use is affecting our brains and our emotions, and the general feeling is that it’s not always a good thing. The technology that was supposed to make our lives easier is actually making them more complex.
I’m sure there’s an app for that, but the question is, should there be? Take a good look at your phone and the apps you have installed over the years. How many do you actually use? I’d hazard a guess and say a fraction of what’s there.
And yet apps that you may have used for a week or two are still hanging around, sending you notifications because you haven’t quite got around to deleting them. The sensible thing to do would be delete the apps, of course, but that takes time, and time is one thing we don’t seem to have much of these days.
It’s not surprising, then, that some people are turning to phones that promise to lighten the load. Nokia has found a niche in releasing updated versions of its 3310 and the Matrix “banana phone”, phones that have an internet connection but few modern apps. After years when “always on” was the fashion if not the expectation, it seems being disconnected is finally starting to hold some appeal.
The Light Phone II takes a different approach, offering users connection but with a purpose. Every app that runs on the system has an end point, so mindless scrolling is a thing of the past. It is you using technology, it seems, rather than technology using you.
If you are prepared to buy a new phone and change your habits, there are options. For most of us, the idea of carrying a second phone is yet another burden imposed by technology and our inability to regulate its use.
The quicker solution? Turn notifications off. Sometimes burying your head in the sand can be a good thing, even if it is only briefly.