Facebook came out with an app that’s basically “push notifications as a service”. A meager wrapper around an RSS feed. Its tagline is:

Notifications that matter from sources you love.

Here’s the thing — these notifications don’t matter. You don’t need your phone buzzing every time Entertainment Weekly has a new TV recap. You don’t need your phone buzzing every time an NBA game finishes. Vogue’s weekly digest of the ten best dressed celebrities should not take your attention from anything. 1

Most notifications don’t matter. You’re better off without them.

A couple months back I found that I had developed a grim Pavolvian response to my phone beeping or vibrating. It was a Catch-22: if I ignored it I felt uncomfortable because there was something new that I was missing, but if I looked at it I would inevitably get sucked into my phone and diverted away from whatever I was actually doing.

This is by design! Very intelligent and very talented people have tons of data telling them when to blow up your phone and how often to do it. They call this “re-engagement.”

So I’ve spent the past few months removing all notifications except:

  • phone calls
  • text messages

And that’s it. 2

I have found that my day-to-day quality of life and mental state has improved tremendously by disabling all push notifications except for phone calls and text messages.

Each buzz on my wrist or ding in my earphones that someone had written on my wall, or mentioned me in a tweet (let alone the non-social notifications: that your farm is ready for new crops, that your fantasy football team just lost the lead; that your apps have been updated) took me out of whatever I was doing, forcing me to trade focus and clarity for a tiny, hollow reassurance that I was up to date.

Since disabling them, I’ve felt calmer in my work and personal life. I’ve been able to focus on both actual tasks and actual leisure much more easily, as opposed to dropping out of them to check on my phone every ten or so minutes (at which point I inevitably get sucked into a different app or timesink.)

And sure, like giving up anything cold turkey, there was a transition period. There was a part of my mind that went mad not knowing if I was missing out on a Twitter mention or an email. (I remember on more than one occassion opening Twitter, reading a dozen tweets, closing the tab, and then immediately subconsciously reopening Twitter in a new tab.) But that urge faded, and now the time I used to spend neck-deep in tweets and feeds that I’d already glanced over I can spend reading The Bell Jar.

Maybe I’m just weird; maybe it’s just a placebo thing. I dunno. But in a world where we’re already way too addicted to technology and it drives so much of our lifestyle, its important to fight for each moment of peace. Don’t let them get squandered.

I promise you, that Verge article will be there when you look for it later. You don’t need to know about it now.

You don’t need push notifications. Get rid of them. 3

  1. These aren’t random examples: these are the exact selling points that Notify uses. [return]
  2. If I could limit Messenger’s notifications to just be close friends and family, I would, but I can’t. So it’s gone, too. [return]
  3. It has been so hard to resist the urge to make a pun about pushy notifications and I deserve some sort of medal. [return]
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