A couple of weeks ago as I was getting ready to go to bed, my phone flashed up with an email that I’d been waiting for.
I was already late to go to bed that night but I felt compelled to read the email, because my phone was urging me to read it. Unfortunately, the email didn’t contain the news I was hoping for – in fact, it was downright upsetting.
In the past, I have struggled with anxiety and periodic bouts of acute insomnia – basically I’m not a great sleeper. Therefore, receiving bad news right before going to bed is super not ideal for me; I got about three hours sleep that night.
The next day all I could think about was how I’d have been better off if I’d ignored the notification and made the decision to read the email in the morning. And so, I replied to the email and immediately turned off notifications for that app. I thought about it some more, and I decided – well I don’t really need to receive any notifications at that time of night, do I? There’s no one in my time zone that could be trying to contact me urgently (as I live with my boyfriend and my best friend). Anyone in Australia who is trying to get a hold of me – well to be frank, there’s not much I can do about an emergency situation at 11pm from 16,000-odd kms away. So why act like I can?
So, I visited the Do Not Disturb settings on my phone and for Sunday to Thursday, I set it to block all notifications between 9.30pm and 7.30am. If I touch the Home key, I can still see the notifications on the lock screen, but it won’t light up, flash or otherwise try to get my attention. And I can sleep in peace (or in as much peace as I ever sleep).
But then I thought more about it again, about those damn notifications. Because I have a Samsung phone, when I receive a notification for certain apps the little LED indicator light in the top left corner flashes repeatedly until I dismiss the notification. It even flashes in different colours, so I can usually tell which app it is that’s demanding my attention at that moment.
I started paying attention to how I reacted to that little flashing light – and it wasn’t great. I realised I was staring at my phone when people were talking, waiting for the light to start flashing. As soon as it did flash, I found myself completely incapable of ignoring it until I lit up the screen and read or dismissed the notification. I was completely distracted from whatever it was I was doing – even really important things like 1:1 meetings with my manager, or dinner time with my boyfriend – because my bloody phone was demanding my attention.
I don’t want to sound more important or popular than I am, but I get a reasonable amount of notifications. People contacting me from home, dozens of promotional emails, weather notifications from Brisbane I’m too nostalgic about to turn off, Twitter threads I’ve participated in, Facebook meme tags and of course, all those Instagram likes flooding in in the hundreds (lol jk #fuckthealgorithm). Do I really need to read all of these things in real time? Is anybody really offended if I don’t respond immediately? Probably not, and if they are – fuck ‘em. Who are they to demand my time?
So I ask you too – do you really need these notifications? Really? Think about how much of your time you’re giving over to your phone.
I’m doing an experiment now. I’m trying to reclaim my time, I’m trying to stop being overwhelmed by the constant influx of information, I’m trying to fucking sleep better. For Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email, I’ve turned off push notifications. Literally nothing happens in those apps that I need to know about right away. For Messenger, WhatsApp and other miscellaneous texting apps, I’ve turned off the LED light. I’ll see how it goes, but I can’t imagine anything is going to go terribly wrong. If people need me exactly at that very moment, they can use my phone for its original purpose – to call me.
Now I just need to learn some self-control and stop myself from hitting the home key to light up the screen every 5 minutes, just to see if I’ve missed anything…