Notifications make us less smart!

Try this experiment at home or work. If you have a smartphone turned on with its usual settings, keep it at a distance such that you can hear its notifications but you can’t find out the contents of the notifications. Once you hear a notification, and assuming you cannot identify from the sound how important it might be, force yourself to not approach the smartphone and stay ignorant of the event. Observe the physical effects of this behavior. You are likely to feel your heartbeat rise and your pupil dilate, if you have a means of observing your pupil that is. You are likely to be involuntarily forced to be preoccupied with iterating the various possibilities of what that notification might have been. The feeling is similar to what you might experience if you are forced to choose to not answer the doorbell for instance. The dilation of the pupil is said to coincide with heightened brain activity. This particular activity is actually a very tough one since this will be pulling information from various depths in your memory to guess what the message might have been. It’s clear that this state of being deprived of information is as unbearable as it gets in the normal course of things. Most of us would not be able to survive a few minutes of this!

Now let’s analyze what the effect of the notification might have been in the normal course of action. It is likely that there would be the same heightened “panic” to find out the contents of that missive. That implies that while seeing the notification you would blank out all other communication and try to understand the message quickly. It is also likely that if this were something that you felt the need to reply to, it would be very difficult to do anything till you have replied to it.

Gradually we are spending more and more of our time in this “notifications-on” mode and reducing the time we give to intellectually involved tasks that require us to hold different thoughts and build linkages between them. For instance this piece would have been impossible to write under a barrage of notifications.

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