The Amazing Things That Happened When I Turned off My Phone Notifications
How long can you go without checking your cellphone?
The Purpose of Notifications Versus What They Actually Do
Call it desperation or those pesky 4 am messages from Discord... I sat straight up, weary-eyed from one ping too many and searched through my phone's settings—specifically the one for notifications to reclaim at least some of the sleep I've been losing over the past few months. I turned off every single one but my alarm. The thing is, I forgot about it for quite some time.
Maybe we're waiting for that one important email, or a special friend to be online for an engaging chat. In hindsight, there are seemingly endless reasons why we would need these notifications. We need them as a tool to remind us of the important things, as though we've forgotten what they were.
Chances are, you haven't turned off all of your emails and will get pinged some spam or otherwise irrelevant updates that aren't urgent to respond to, if a reply is needed at all. Waiting for a particular person to jump online, essentially leaves you wide open for anyone to begin chatting your ear off about something you aren't particularly fond of. Before you know it, the majority of your day slips by—still awaiting a reply, but where did all that time go?
It wasn't until I was several thousand Facebook friends deep, and 20 Discord channels in that I realized that keeping a chunk of my attention continuously fixated on my phone was beginning to—quite literally, ruin my life. It's a special kind of hell to debate between setting my alarm or silencing my phone, to not be woken up every 15 minutes. The worst of it is when you are woken up by a group chat, and you're not even the person being spoken to.
Enjoying the Silence and Using My Brain Again
A couple of days went by before noticing what I had done, but instead of logging back into Messenger or turning my application settings back on—basked in the silence for the first time in so long, that it may as well have been the first time. I was unrushed in the absence of social pressure, real or imaginary.
I was originally terrified to forget "the important details", and people in my life, that I never dared to consciously make this bold of a change. I thought to leave it this way, if only for a few more days to see what would happen. I began starting on my homework and even personal projects that I have been persistently putting on the back burner for an unreachable tomorrow. I completed far more things in a shorter amount of time than I would standardly accept. Was it possible that I was viewing my situation incorrectly this whole time?
To my surprise, I did forget everyone and most things for a while, but one by one they began to cross my mind again. Not the shallow interactions I was having before with strangers, but the friends and peers that mattered to me; "I wonder how they've been."
"We need them as a tool to remind us of the important things, as though we've forgotten what they were."
Why Turn Notifications Off?
Turning Notifications On
Turning Notifications Off
Subscribing to being constantly distracted away from important tasks
Uninterrupted time to work on projects and fulfilling tasks
To catch up and "get ahead" of the workload, making room for only the most urgent notifications
Anxiety from an obligation to maintain unworthy connections
A gained confidence in making room for only important interactions
The freedom to choose interactions that entertain and who to reach-out towards, without guilt of procrastination
A weaker ability to memorize and prioritize
Improved ability to prioritize people, and tasks based on relevance to one's goals
A sense of peace and control over one's actions
Social Media Tells Us That We Don't Know Enough People
That's the first thing that comes to mind in lieu of every major social media platform; Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and others where a person can "publicly see" how many other people are following you. Why not have a limit-cap on how many friends and connections you can have at any one time? We all want attention, admiration, and love, but we spread ourselves far too thin to maintain as many shallow connections as humanly possible.
My unpopular opinion is that by providing a person with endless content, the users are compelled to spend the vast majority of their time there—day and night. It's being spoonfed information to give us the illusion of completion, and the elusive feeling of belonging. Associations have been made between ADHD and "over-connected" phone usage (Seo, Kim, & David, 2015). Could this be happening the other way around where we are being conditioned into developing ADHD by using these networks regularly? I see the ability to easily and rapidly connect individuals faster than we can forge relationships as a way to stay addicted—in a mental flurry of pings, vibrations, and new followers/friends.
An issue moving forefront is that humanity wants to fill in the void of loneliness with a person, and it doesn't matter who. The more friends that we each have, the more successful—rather, the less lonely we are. This is the type of society we are living in. We are "collecting" friends. Many aren't "official" unless indicated by these sites and services. We want to be the popular kid free of social problems, thus we reach out to potential friends. Notifications easily outweigh their usefulness if not monitored properly.
The Waiting Around (For Something Better) Mentality
It's almost sickening thinking now that most of my time would be spent entranced at my phone, just in case... I missed a single notification. Multitasking is not what we thought it first was. We are not ever doing two things at once, multitasking is how we assign and distribute our attention-spans between multiple tasks (Mahone, 2011). We are dividing our attention.
It may not seem like much at first, but let me ask you something. If we are dividing our attention between our phones, and everything else, then dividing it again—against every possible connection and interaction, How much focus do we really have left... For anything else?
Most of my days were spent waiting, daydreaming because I was used to having 15 chat windows opened at all times. It could take me hours just to do something simple like an assignment, or a blog. Social media causes an "addiction to interaction". We feel like something is wrong with us if we aren't talking to others 24/7.
When was the last time you didn't sleep with your phone? What are you expecting that is important enough to pause your life for?
Why Everyone is Scared To Turn Their Lives Back On
We'll forget the people important to us, or maybe we'll be the ones forgotten. Maybe I'll miss that one really important event, or somehow cause everyone to hate me when I'm not always there. There are many excuses we hold to justify plugging in our lives and shutting our minds off, but many of them are untrue. Without the constant white-noise notifications provide us, we are reminded of our physical reality. I was "away" for at least a week before I remembered who I wanted to talk to and what things mattered without being reminded.
I may be talking to a noticeably smaller percentage of people than I was accustomed to these days, but I'm choosing who I engage with, and I'm enjoying these deeper conversations. It's laughable, I used to think that my life would end if I couldn't keep track of everything, indefinitely. When I had my notifications on I was aimlessly wandering, going nowhere—but in a rush.
If a person is truly important to you, they will be remembered without conscious efforts and reminders. If someone, anyone, really needs to get a hold of you—they will. We don't need to put our lives on hold just in case for obligations to others.
The best notifications can't be stopped, are in person, or are both.
Mahone, E. M. (2011). The effects of ADHD (beyond decoding accuracy) on reading fluency and comprehension. New Horizons for Learning, 9(1). Retrieved from http://jhepp.library.jhu.edu/ojs/index.php/newhorizons/article/view/35/33
Seo, M., Kim, J. H., & David, P. (2015). Always connected or always distracted? ADHD symptoms and social assurance explain problematic use of mobile phone and multicommunicating. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 20(6), 667-681. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcc4.12140/full