Why turning off your notifications is better for you then you think.

Sep 16

As I stack away the last empty suitcase its official : Our annual summer holiday is officially over. A two week road trip through the south of France with just me and my family has left me relaxed and revitalised for the coming months amidst the busy mayhem of my modern day over connected life. The great thing about going abroad are the insane roaming charges for data communications. at 1.5 euro for every 10 measly megabytes you do the right thing and turn the data reception on your smartphone OFF.  The result ? A notification free zen zone that lets you rediscover what it’s like NOT to be bossed around by technology.

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“Notifications, alerts, pop ups, dings and dooh-dah’s : The over connected mother-in-law that will never leave you in peace”.

There used to be a time when people were “unreachable” They would be away from their home phone and nowhere near a pay phone. There was just no way in hell you could get in touch with them, even if it was urgent. All you could do is wait. Back then we did not wonder if said person might have been abducted by aliens or stepped into a transdimensional rift, there was no cause for alarm or general panic .. they were just “unreachable”   

The very notion of this “unreachable” concept is of course absurd today. Now we do not only have to be “available and connected” every second of the day, we also need those connections to be so instantaneously, so direct, that the notifications of their arrival have become a priority to whatever activity our human lives behold at that very moment. Vibrations, pop-ups, Notification balloons, unread counters, flashing LED’s … Short of setting our pants on fire whenever a new email arrives, our computers and smartphones seem to think that the digital flow of communications should take precedence on whatever activity we are performing at that specific time.

Now .. if we go back to the days of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in “You’ve got mail” and you only GET an email once or twice a day .. its quite nice to have your computer blab out that AOL jingle whenever a new piece of electronic correspondence arrives in your mailbox… but these days that’s just not the case anymore. We get boatloads of emails, notifications, instant messages, tweets, tags and more .. but it seems like every single event still gets the same popup or sound that sent Meg Ryan on her way to a fake orgasm in an overcrowded diner (Sorry , wrong movie).

The paradox lies in the fact that as the quantity of these “informational events” rises, their quality diminishes. The messages are higher in frequency but shorter in content. What used to be a 150 line email (with one “You’ve got mail” jingle) now consists of 150 instant messages (each with their own separate ding).  And if we draw that analogy up a level : Imagine your mailman ringing your doorbell EVERY SINGLE TIME  he drops a flyer or a piece of spam into your mailbox. I think by day three you would be ready to shoot the poor man … and yet we “accept” this level of interruptions from our technological devices every single day.

The result : ‘Fragmented reality’.

With your ‘Virtual world” constantly interrupting your “Realspace” your attention span gets shattered and you experience the world around you in a distracted and shallow way. I’ve called this symptom “diminished presence” because even when you are in a “real” conversation with somebody you are not really “There”… The actual moment (and connection) you have with this other person gets interrupted by dozens of other fragmented interactions from cyberspace who in turn fragment your interaction (and attention span) in real space .. The result :  Reality confetti : The way you experience your day / your life .. cut up in small incoherent pieces leaving you with a feeling of confusion : What did I actually talk about over dinner last night.

Retake your life, Remaster your tech.

So what to do  ? Throw away your digital devices, Buy a Chuck Wagon and hide up somewhere in the mountains ? .. No, don’t worry I’m not going to go that far .. You can still be the hyperconnected supernerd who is the closest thing to Tony Stark your friends will ever know .. but your interactions with technology need to be on YOUR terms. How ? Here are some pointers.

This is a notification to turn of your notifications.

The first thing you need to start doing is turning off your notifications. Whether those are email, facebook, tweets, rss feeds, Voxer messages, dirty pics via Snapchat or what have you : Make sure they no longer have any AUDIO or HAPTIC (vibrational) notifications on your mobile device. In other words : If you are not actually LOOKING at the device you won’t know they are there.  Yeah .. it will be hard at first .. you will suffer from withdrawal and constantly check your phone to see if there is something there .. but that will pass … At least this way you won’t be interrupted by a random spam mail from Runkeeper at the very second you want to kiss the girl/boy/anime-drawing of your dreams. The point is that the interactions with your information streams are going to be ON YOUR TERMS. Just turning of the sounds/vibrations on my phone have given me more focus on my moments in reality when I need/want them. I still check my phone when I’m bored .. but I’m not Pavlovs dog that starts to slobber for new info whenever the bell rings.

Disengage the creational from the communicational.

For you creative types out there. Try writing/composing/drawing/singing/creating something while you need to keep track of 5 Facebook chats. The chance is the end product of this labour of constant interruption and attention diversification will look like some piece of homework your dog ate, pooped out, ate again and then threw up.  And still you THOUGHT it was going to look great but the constant interruptions completely fragged (and fracked) it up for you.  The answer here is to split the devices you use for CREATING (and consuming) content and those that you use to “communicate”. I read and watch movies on my iPad .. Facebook, Email, Twitter and all ther rest of my social media tools are on my “Communicator” (an iPod touch thats lying around the house) There is no shame in having multiple devices if they each serve a specific purpose.

Let technology work for you.

So try to be your own little Sarah Connor and pick up the “Fight against the machine” Imagine your Cellphone is that evil Terminator that wants to hunt down any coherent perception of reality and blow your attention span to smithereens with its arsenal of pushy notifications. Take back what’s yours : Mastery of technology. The fact that YOU operate your devices. YOU drive your car when and where YOU want to . You do not eat when the microwave tells you to (if your microwave tells you things you should clean it more often) and YOU use your phone to communicate when YOU want to.  Forget the modern urge to “constantly” be on top of things. If you were a 90’s stockbroker who managed to make the deal of a lifetime because he INSTANTLY got info on his blackberry .. thats just awesome .. But if you read that DM on twitter 20 minutes later than intended  … i’m sure the world is not gonna grind to a halt.

So step back from the churning river of push notifications and retake your position as master of your own technology ..  This is your final notification to turn off your notifications .. Because its good for you.

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