Why I Turned My Phone Notifications OFF.

I decided to turn my phone notifications OFF.

My phone is now always on silent and I don’t plan on turning my notifications back ON.

The seed for this epiphany was first planted when I began listening to a podcast called Note to Self, a “tech show about being human.” I chose to start listening because I was having trouble reconciling with the positive and negative parts of social media and data privacy.

I related to each episode instantly.

In September 2017, the podcast’s host, Manoush Zomorodi, published a book called Bored and Brilliant which hopes to “empowers the reader to transform their digital anxiety into self-knowledge, autonomy, and action.” You can watch her TED Talk here!

The combination of consistently listening to her podcasts, becoming self-aware of my “smart”phone usage, and also attending a meet and greet for her new book launch made me wonder… “What action can I take to make sure that my “smart”phone does not completely take over my life?”

Is it possible to stop…

  • Endlessly scrolling?
  • Becoming numb to Breaking News notifications?
  • Prioritizing virtual conversations over real, genuine, in-person, real-life conversations and experiences?

This is just a part of why I decided to turn my notifications off. I realized that I don’t like being interrupted by a mindless machine who notifies me rather than the other way around. I don’t want my smartphone always feeding me auto-generated information!

Manoush and her work seriously helped me reconcile with the very real, disturbing, and optimistic aspects of living in a tech-filled world.

Through Note to Self, I added new words and really cool people into my vocabulary:

  • Digital privacy!
  • Attention economy!
  • Computational kindness!
  • Tristan Harris! — Called the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” by The Atlantic magazine, Tristan Harris spent three years as a Design Ethicist at Google understanding how technology manipulates the evolutionary limits and vulnerabilities of the human mind — especially as it relates to addiction, the spread of conspiracies and misinformation. Tristan left Google in 2016 to work full-time on a non-profit initiative called Time Well Spent. (Taken straight from his website. This is the kind of Silicon Valley I am interested in.)

I also slowly built up knowledge and understanding about how…

  • Tech companies are NOT unbiased entities — They do more than just create products, they influence and control a large part of our experience. Think: “fake news” and the recent 2016 US election.
  • Tech companies OWN our data, our posts, our pictures, our words, and our videos — They own all of it. They have the right to flag and delete our posts if they so choose. They collect, sell, and analyze data about us without us even realizing it’s happening. We may choose what we share, but by hitting the “Upload” button, we consent to more than we think and more than these tech companies want us to know.
  • Technology is IMPERFECT and so are the PEOPLE who create it — Google Photos labeled two black people as “gorillas,” later apologized and removed the “gorilla” tag altogether. This is just one of those instances where you realize that advances in machine learning is influenced by the people who write the code. Who’s making these decisions? How do we protect what needs to be protected? Read more here.
  • I, as a human being, can take social media LESS SERIOUSLY — Unpacking the intricacies, understanding the data, and realizing how I interact with technology on a daily basis has increased my self-awareness of my relationship with social media. Breaking down a system into its components and flaws has shined a light of truth on something that felt very abstract in the beginning.

Manoush does an excellent job breaking down big concepts by incorporating relevant science, data, and relatable scenarios into each episode.

One of my biggest takeaways has been understanding WHY…

“Self regulation has to be a part of media literacy and digital education.” — Manoush Zomorodi

Understanding that there exists a level of responsibility and self regulation that comes along with using technology? This was a huge lightbulb moment for me.

It made even more sense after I listened to a Note to Self episode where Manoush shares an excerpt from a fellow listener, Liam, who shares his thoughts on his “smart”phone:

“I like deciding when to access my apps instead of my phone telling me to access them. There’s something about sharing my life sparingly now that makes my life rich and introspective” — Liam

I love the idea of not being ruled by my “smart”phone.

As a human being, it is totally natural to get sucked into the flashy, convenient, and resourceful features of a phone.

In a way, this was even more reason for me to turn all of my notifications off because I hate when my phone gets flooded with social media notifications or mindless computer generated updates. I get so anxious and overwhelmed by explosions of notifications at random points in the day. It made me not want to respond to people right away and instead, instantly clear all my notifications without even reading them just to make them go away.

It was pretty clear that it was time to make a change.

Less than 24 hours later of listening to Liam’s quote and meeting in-person Manoush on her book tour, I went straight into my phone’s settings and turned all of my phone notifications OFF.

I turned off notifications for the majority of my apps, including text messages, my email, Instagram, and even Breaking News notifications.

I also uninstalled a few apps such as Snapchat, and this time I want to keep it OFF my phone. My Facebook app has been deleted for more than a year, and don’t plan on reinstalling it again. #ReduceMindlessScrolling

What did I keep? I left a few notifications on for weather alerts and important calendar notifications.

The rest of the time, my phone is quiet.

If I need to check text messages, I make a conscious effort to check and respond to my messages.

And that’s how it goes for everything else — It feels great.

What’s changed?

  • Now I choose when I want my phone to alert me. I choose when I want to contact people. I make time to respond to people when I am ready. For instance, when I log on to my email, it is when I am ready and able to dedicate time to thoughtfully responding and addressing emails.
  • I am not interrupted by my phone as I go about my day. I feel less anxious about missing important notifications… because I don’t have any haha. Somehow, the world keeps spinning!
  • I’m not less tempted to reach for my phone while I’m walking. I’ve noticed that I tend to reach for my phone without thinking in order to fill up time and space. I used to try to make use of my time by responding to people and reading news while walking from Point A to Point B. However, I always found it really difficult to concentrate, and my responses were usually less genuine because my brain was being bombarded with all the external distractions in my surrounding environment. Good-bye, distracted responses!
  • My phone is a lot quieter. I guess we can equate the quietness of my phone with being less popular and less wanted and desired. It’s kinda true. At the same time, I think this is an important feeling to experience. Yes, it’s a little lonely and empty feeling. But it’s also kinda peaceful.
  • It’s important to let your mind rest and take a break from the endless stimulation of a “smart”phone. Sometimes it’s nice to do nothing and let your mind wander.

Less day-to-day frenzy. Less unnecessary anxiety. Less mindless scrolling.

More quiet.

I haven’t stopped using my phone — I’ve just changed how I use it.

What do you think? Would you turn off your phone notifications? Do you think it’s practical?

Originally published at tayzau.com on October 26, 2017.