from notifications to “no, thank you”

I recently had to read a book for grad school called “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. It’s about… you guessed it–how the advance of digital technology and the Internet is actually altering our brain functioning.

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In addition to our primal instincts of fight or flight, I learned how we actually have an innate distractedness of the mind that allows us to constantly assess our surroundings; surveying it for changes that could either signal danger–or opportunity (ie: food).

Realizing this “distractedness” is part of our very human makeup, I felt justified in my INSANE ability to multi-task and process a million bits of information at once. It’s called talent, people. (Riiiight?)

But as I continued working on a digital technology self-assessment project, it all started snowballing.

After completing my initial research and surveying my personal usage, I was 3 sentences into the paper when the adorable picture I’d just posted of my niece on Instagram started lighting up my phone about every 15-30 seconds.

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With my phone sitting at the left of my keyboard, you can imagine how that began to divert my gaze from research paper, to iPhone. Literally, every 15-30 seconds.

But it wasn’t just the Instagram photo. It was the work emails, the subscriptions, the shopping deals, the Tweets, the Pins, the texts, school announcements on Blackboard, the iCloud Photo Sharing, and weather updates.

Beep. Ding. Vibrate.

I’d look left at my phone, then back at the screen, and thanks to iCloud’s syncing abilities–the same notifications would then proceed to go off on the top right of my computer screen. Because once wasn’t enough, obviously. 

Swoosh. Click. Buzz. 

I’d check them all, clear a few, delete a couple, respond to some, and go back to the paper.

5 more likes. Screen brightens. Eye gaze shifts left.

1 comment.

45 minutes pass, and I look at my progress on the paper.

3 sentences.

What?! Still?

Enter: the not-so-silent power of notifications…

We let them interrupt our attention, our ability to focus, and even our conversations with the people right smack in front of us.

AS IF it reallyyy requires your immediate attention that ‘@sallysue111’ liked your photo.

Seriously? It can wait.

And for that matter, it’s actually kind of more exciting to go about your business and later see the love all at once.Your likes will still be there when you come back to them. Then you can browse through the individual ‘likes’ & comment back where you see fit–all in one brief sitting. Imagine that. 

Who knows, without stalking every notification that comes through, you may even have less anxiety when you hit ‘share’ and then wait those dreaded ~5 minutes for the first 11 likes, until “Finally! Double-digits. Phew!” 

It’s called Instagram because it allows you to instantly post in the moment, and go back to actually being in that moment. It’s not Instalinger or Instaallday. I guess it could be, but to each their own…

We could all do without a “Sally Sue also commented on Billy Bob’s photo” notification on Facebook, or a “John Smith now follows you on Twitter!” update. Like, cool?

Because I don’t know about you, but every time I get one of these little social bits, I feel a subtle pull–okay fine, it’s more like a full-force drag that demands I answer, respond, open, view, listen, etc.– RIGHT THEN.

How many times have you picked up your phone to send someone a quick text, but you get sucked in by the 10 other notifications on your lock screen, so you proceed to check them (all of them), and 10 minutes later you back to what you were doing; having never even texted the person you intended to!

Have you ever logged online to pay a bill but your email, calendar alerts, and texts keep coming through, so you get lost amidst the 6 other tabs you have up on your browser?

Then your BFF texts you, you text back, and then you back to checking your email. Bill never gets paid.

A minor ‘oops’ then turns into a major ‘ouch’ in the form of a late penalty. Hellllo.


^Sounds silly, but is true.

Picture yourself banging your head against the wall. Why would you do that? Great question.  

But it’s really not all that different from how we might as well be walking around in circles on a daily basis, leashed to our virtual social updates.

Let’s remind ourselves of a simple but powerful definition for a second:

in·san·i·ty – inˈsanədē/ – noun – doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.

By turning on notifications for everything, we are literally saying “yes” to an incessantly fragmented attention span and an overly-stimulated, fully-taxed prefrontal cortex.

We wonder why we “can’t concentrate“, or think “reading a book is boring“, or why we “just can’t seem to fall asleep at night“.

Stillness. Turns out it’s a lot harder to do now than it used to be.

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Being entrenched in the digital world myself,  I hear it all the time: “My goal is to spend less time on social media”.

Ok cool, what are you doing about it?

Because there’s got to be an action-step. An activation energy is required. Passion without action is just an emotion.

We have to be deliberate with our intentions or things will never change. A lot of times, that just means simply outsmarting ourselves.

We can still enjoy those things [ie: social media], and just be more efficient about it. We can better invest our time and energy into creating positive, new habits, versus trying to condemn the ones that aren’t working for us.

Are you a full time social media manager? Are you getting paid to monitor your social feeds all day? Some of you are, so that’s a legit thing to do & you probably need notifications, but for those of you who aren’t [myself included]…stop kidding yourself.

The internet is changing our brains because we’re allowing it to. We’ve physically toggled the little switch on our phones, saying: “Yes, please constantly interrupt me”.

We are forgetting the lost art of solitary, uninterrupted focus. We are high on web-surfing, endless floating from one link and one account to the next, addicted to the influx of novelty and new information.

Sometimes I wonder what we’re even looking for. “We can’t download creativity, patience, self-control, love, character, wealth, wisdom, peace, joy or time in the App store” (Katrina Smith), and we’ll never find an article titled “[Enter Your Name Here]: The Answer to All Your Burning Life Questions and a Visual Roadmap to Your Life”. #amiright

Carr states:

“There is no Sleepy Hollow on the Internet, no peaceful spot where contemplativeness can work its restorative magic. There is only the endless, mesmerizing buzz of the urban street. The stimulations of the Net, like those of the city, can be invigorating and inspiring. We wouldn’t want to give them up. But they are, as well, exhausting and distracting. They can easily overwhelm all quieter modes of thought. One of the greatest dangers we face as we automate the work of our minds and cede control over the flow of our thoughts and memories to a powerful electronic system, is the one that informs the fears of both the scientist Joseph Weizenbaum and the artist Richard Foreman: a slow erosion of our humanness and our humanity. It’s not only deep thinking that requires a calm, attentive mind. It’s also empathy and compassion. The more distracted we become, the less able we are to experience the subtlest, most distinctively human forms of emotion” (Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, pg. 220). 

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Sure, in some ways the Internet is making us smarter–fostering an ability to process a little of a lot of information all at once. Yet what it’s also doing is preventing us from being able to access the parts of our brain that ignite thinking for ourselves.

Buzz kill. 

So there I sat in front of my computer screen, at my wits end (or maybe just finally gaining some real smarts). I picked up the phone again, but this time, turning off notifications for everything but calls, text, and calendar reminders.

I can get down with people intentionally trying to get in touch with me, and staying on schedule. But otherwise? It can wait.

If you need to talk or text, you’ve got my number. It will notify me. Emails? It’s not like I’m not going to check my inbox on my own.

“Technology was created to bring convenience into our lives so that we have more quality time–not for life and quality time to become inconvenient.” -Katrina Smith, Whole Magazine

I don’t think I will ever be “off” of social media and I certainly don’t think it’s evil or the demise of our day, but I will be done with it controlling me.

It isn’t rash to suggest that the tumultuous advance of technology drowns out the refined perceptions, thoughts, and emotions that arise only through meditative thinking, contemplation, and reflection. The frenziedness of technology threatens to entrench itself just about everywhere. We [can decide whether we] welcome that frenziedness into our souls (Martin Heidegger).

That toggle switch on our phones is there for a reason–it’s a choice.

Sooooo, notifications? No, thank you. 




Add yours →

  1. Great wake-up call… Well done!

  2. Not only was this well written, but it had great insight. Today your a blogger tomorrow you’re on talk shows. Well done.

  3. So true!! Good job Kaitlyn.

  4. thank you, Eliza! glad you enjoyed it and hope you had a great weekend!

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