The old TL;DR first: I’m turning off all my smartphone notifications.

From now until who-knows-when you should avoid having the following thought: I sent Vinney a message on such-and-such channel, therefore he’ll get a notification, therefore he’ll see it soon. No. Let’s all stop doing that.
Please read on…

the core problem

I don’t want a smartphone. well I do - but I want it to be dumber… in some ways - and smarter in others.

The title is misleading and click-baity. I don’t want to go offline, nor am I a Luddite or some sort of flip-phone-phile - quite the opposite actually: I love technology and the richness of experience it facilitates. But, as many people have expressed in many more eloquent ways before me, I’ve had it up to here with attention-vampiricy 1.

Lately I’ve been intentionally rediscovering my R-Mode mind (maybe you think of this as “right brain”) 2 and I’ve returned to a greater appreciation for the less-distracted and more-connected (as in to the physical present, not to the internet) default state of mind that we used to experience before devices began lurking in our pockets.

I’ve now allowed myself to acknowledge that I can’t cultivate the mental persona I’d like while mindlessly and complicit-ly allowing this galaxy of digital distraction to sap my creative energy. I had gone along with it because it felt good, but if I’m being honest with myself I can admit that it’s the bad kind of good feeling.

the good and the bad

There are many ways in which I happily rely on my phone’s very able notifications system in order to extend my brain. This is the good part of technology - where it actually makes us smarter, faster, better. For instance, I make heavy use of a particular reminder app in order to make sure I do certain things that are important to me without having to spend any mental effort maintaining an uninteresting and robotic psychic calendar/alerts menagerie.

The down side of this positive reliance is that in allowing for this one app to steal my full attention when it (and by extension, myself in the past) wants it, is that I need to lower my defenses entirely and pay attention wholeheartedly to any sort of alert that my phone decides to emit: If I only pay mind to alerts when I feel like it, I lose all the worthwhile wins of offloading certain mental chores to my phone.

That’s the problem. And here’s how I am attempting to have my cake (the positive brain-extension features) and eat it too (I guess ‘eating the cake’ is ‘not getting dumb notifications’? I don’t know… that phrase doesn’t really work here I guess)

the plan

Enter the iPhone’s notifications settings panel. My solution is to disable all pushy notifications for all apps except for the ones in which I personally and mindfully may have created notifications for my future self. This list of censored applications includes text messages (but not phone calls. more on both of these soon). This way, I am still the master of my own attention while enjoying the benefits of digital organization tools.

Along with notification curation, I’m also employing the “do not disturb” mode liberally - with the option to always allow phone calls through. This isn’t always great because then I miss any time-based reminders notifications (though I can still see the badge if I look)… So mostly I have to leave DnD off and use very strict notifications curation.

For some apps I leave the badge enabled so that when I happen to be looking I’ll notice if there’s something to see and at that point I can choose to acknowledge it or not. For others I keep badges off, too, because I don’t want to be drawn to them unless I make an independent decision to open them. Additionally, I can use another layer of control: the multiple home screens. For those in-between cases I can leave badges on but choose not to swipe to the screen where they live. The swipe becomes a sort of “ok I’m gonna go waste time over here now” gesture, which I am ok with having discipline about. 3

remaining a normal social animal

For better or worse, I’ve accidentally established myself as a person who replies to messages in a fairly timely manner. Not everyone is like that. We all know someone (or is someone) who we fully expect to not write back to a text message for three days. I’m not that guy. Because of this, I’m in the awkward position of feeling obliged to explain to people that I’m changing my communication habits. I don’t want to offend someone who texts me and then thinks, an hour later, “Vinney didn’t write back. He must have seen that message and is actively ignoring me. What a dick”. Now that’s partially this imaginary person’s problem of expecting attention from their recipients - but it’s also partially my fault for establishing a pattern. We naturally come to expect patterns to repeat. That’s what makes them patterns…

So I sent out an email to friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances briefly mentioning this stuff. And upon reading it my girlfriend rightfully poked fun at me for being a narcissistic goofball. Yea it comes across really self-indulgently when you message people saying, in some regard, I’m so important to talk to and you care so much about my responses that I need to provide this update about my communication styles… But at the same time it’s necessary! It’s our dumb society’s fault for forcing us to have these weird unspoken expectations about digital social contracts.

At the end of the day I don’t want to offend anyone, and it’s fun to take things really seriously (even when it’s mock seriousness), so I’m just making my intentions clear (and then writing an absurd blog post making them even clearer).

how this works with me now

In case you didn’t get that email, here’s the gist of it:

  • If you have a time-sensitive reason to contact me, call me! Remember talking on the phone?
  • I still get text messages - and I even still read them. And I may even still read and reply to them right after I get them! …Or I may not see them for 8 or 24 hours. The point being: don’t hesitate to text me, but if the topic is about now or later today or even tomorrow you’ll probably want to call.
  • Same goes for emails or Twitter DMs or really anything else.

I repeat: From now until who-knows-when you should avoid having the following thought: I sent Vinney a message on such-and-such channel, therefore he’ll get a notification, therefore he’ll see it soon. No. Let’s all stop doing that. Please read on…

I’d love to discuss your thoughts on this topic! Feel free to contact me, now that you know exactly how :)
Or leave a comment below:


Notes

  1. this is a portmanteau of vampire and piracy, because it involves both blood-sucking and commandeering.

  2. check out Pragmatic Thinking and Learning - Refactor Your Wetware for a great in-depth discussion on “right” and “left” brain and fixing your thinking

  3. and then you can do other fun stuff, like naming a folder of apps “LIFE DESTROYERS”, which is precisely what I did.