Smartphone notifications keeping people chained

Image © Raconteur

I did a factory reset on my phone a few days back and it is turning out to be a great step that I took in the very beginning of 2022. Other than getting myself rid of unwanted apps and other crap on the phone, I did one more thing when I reinstalled the necessary apps again.

I turned off notifications for all the apps except a few ones like SMS etc.

A small step, but brought an immense amount of changes. Nowadays, I feel like I control my phone and it doesn’t control me. I won’t say I am a phone addict but just like almost everyone I get distracted by my phone a lot. I have seen myself getting swayed by something on my phone even when I had to see my phone to read some OTP received via SMS or sometimes the MFA app. These kinds of drifts, distractions break your concentration. Since I read Deep work, I knew that I needed to improve my concentration and build habits that would increase my productivity.

So, let me talk about how this small move of turning off notifications benefitted me.

The first and the most obvious is that you do not get distracted by notification sounds from different apps installed on your phone. It helps in having a calm environment to work, study and do stuff that requires focus. No matter how hard we try, our phone manages to get our attention in one way or the other. Even when you put your phone on silent to not get distracted by the notification sounds, those notifications are lined up in your notification bar. So, when you pick up your phone for something important, chances are that you will see a notification or a message that could pull you out of your concentration zone. You might see an Instagram notification and then end up wasting 10-15 minutes scrolling your feed and watching reels. Or you might see a news article that could easily put some thoughts in your head.

The second benefit is a behavioral change that I saw in myself. Just like me, you must have heard that you should manage your time well. Like, keep a window for checking out social media, watching youtube, etc. But, we find that a little difficult to follow. But, now with my notifications turned off, I have noticed that I can have this kind of discipline or order in my daily life.
For example,
I check news related to stock markets only when I open Kite in the morning to get some updates on my money, not when I see any notification from money control.
I check my email in the morning and evening when I think I should, not when any notification tells me to do so.
I scroll through my social media timelines, feeds only when I am sitting idle and have some time to spare on that, and not when Twitter tells me that this XYZ shit is trending.

The result of the above is that I can manage my time better and have longer concentration streaks while I work or read.

The third one is very important. Spending less time staring at the phone screen doing random activities (“Shallows” if you have read Deep work) affects how your brain functions. It influences your thoughts, how much attention your brain gives to particular thoughts and what thoughts manage to make a place for themselves in your subconscious mind. Not going into much detail here, but to summarize, it is like mindful meditation. You get to spend more time with your thoughts, analyze the patterns, build better patterns, and go deeper with every thought that needs your focus. You must have heard the story about Heath Ledger that he had locked himself in a hotel room to prepare for the infamous role of Joker. I am not asking you to go that far, but the important thing to note here and in many more cases like this is that your brain needs time and a conducive environment to churn out stuff that could be rated at least wonderful, if not legendary.

If the last part was able to make some sense and gather your attention, then you will be able to understand that if you have fewer distractions from your phone, then there are less number of external factors that control what goes inside your head. Most of the things come from within and that is very very important. For example, it occurs to me that I should read more on some web3 thing that I was reading yesterday. I decide what to do if I have some time to spare, rather than LinkedIn telling me to be an early applicant for a new role that opened up somewhere.

One of the top things that stop people from taking steps like this to stay away from phones, tablets, etc. is FOMO, Fear of missing out. If I take the above example of LinkedIn notification, A person looking out for a job would surely want to be an early applicant. No one would want to miss out on the last dates of their bills that levy heavy late fees. These kinds of requirements and situations can be justified, but the majority of people have notifications because they are set up by the applications installed. Someone could also argue that notifications help me stay updated blah blah and many other reasons like that. Perhaps they don’t realize that this only chains them to their devices, spoils their habits, hampers their concentration and memory.

Friends, we need to understand this behavioral shift that humankind is going through in this age of technology and be vigilant of the harmful effects that it brings upon us. Let our mind be its own master.

To end this, quoting something from Deep work:
Embrace boredom. After all, it is not such a bad thing.

And if you think you stay updated or won’t miss out on important stuff via these many notifications, then please remember, If something is important, it will find you!

Books that might have influenced my thinking here:

Rohan Jaswal

Software Engineer at Goldcast. Playing around with Python, Java and stuff!