Addicted to the Update: Do You Need a Notification Termination?
Have you experienced a time when you reached down to your pocket, lap, or handbag because you felt that familiar buzz from a new text, social media tag, or reply? As you check your phone, you realize there aren't actually ANY notifications buzzing. Boo. Instead your body (or brain) has simulated some faux vibration via a muscle spasm. How bizarre, right? I don’t consider myself “addicted” to my phone or social media, but I’ve felt this phantom tremor enough times to make me wonder.
So what’s going on here? Is it a problem? If it is, how can it be fixed?
The onslaught of push notifications vying for our attention is becoming a growing concern for many people. Facebook will show you a friend’s comment on a subject completely unrelated to you. LinkedIn will try to connect you with people you’ve never heard of before. Instagram will ping you for every single like you get on a post. Whether relevant or not, your phone is updating for the sake of updating. And if you’ve experienced the phantom vibrations mentioned above, you’re subconsciously expecting those updates. We might even receive a “dopamine hit” every time we see a new post or reaction. This feeling of reward likens to the rush people get from gambling and playing the lottery. The addictive nature of push notifications has the power to make us stop what we’re doing, just to check that new update. Technology is a truly powerful thing, but we should be wary of becoming a slave to it.
The question we need to ask ourselves is what - of all these notifications and apps - is most important to us? What updates are we actually interested in? What information is crucial to see during work hours? What distracts us from our responsibilities? Do we even use the app sending the notification?
When we download an app, the notifications are either enabled by default, or we choose to enable them but may not actually want every type of notification the app is putting out. Here are some practices you can use to minimize the torrent of updates being thrown your way:
- The simplest method would be to completely turn off notifications for specific apps. If you use a movie theater app to buy tickets, you may not want to be updated every time a new movie is showing. That app has one purpose for you, and any notifications are essentially white noise.
- You can filter the type of updates you’re shown for some apps. Let’s say you follow a specific YouTuber and want to know every time they put out new content. You can choose to get notified of all their updates, while opting out of random notifications of videos or channels that “you may be interested in”.
- Some people find it helpful to remove specific apps from their phone, and to only use those apps while at a home computer or on a tablet. If you tend to get lost down a Reddit hole from clicking on an interesting push notification, it may be best to only have access to Reddit at home via your tablet or desktop PC. That kind of information isn’t generally necessary for your daily life, and is more of a time sink for when you’re bored. Another way to accomplish this is to only use social media or similar apps through a web browser on your phone. That way you will only see new notifications when you intentionally go to that source.
- The most obvious solution? Turn off ALL notifications! You may want to keep text messages, calendar/meeting updates, and other important reminders active, but everything else can go. When you designate certain times to check your apps, you are choosing when you want those relevant notifications to be shown to you. Not the other way around. This alone will help with loss of productivity from distracting home screen updates. Alternatively, you can silence the notifications that come through so you don’t know about them until you next look at your phone.
Push notifications were originally created from Blackberry so that you never missed an incoming email. It was about convenience. You didn’t have to have your inbox open at all times. Apple and Android then followed suit and incorporated notifications into their system. Companies with apps understand how addictive push notifications are. They actually rely on it. On the surface, updates about information you’re interested in is quite handy; you may have missed it otherwise. However, the bottom line for these companies is not to make you happy, but to get you into the app. Many apps - and websites in general - are reliant on their ad revenue, so they “poke” you over and over until you click.
It should be comforting to know that it’s not your fault you want to check those updates. It’s a brain thing; something app technology knowingly exploits. But you have the power to control the influence apps have on you. Spend some time to cater notifications to your life and your schedule. Otherwise you’ll be inundated with updates you don’t even care about, and that “ghost in the cell” will be tricking you with fake buzzes more often than not.