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How Life Is Better Without Notifications

Image for article titled How Life Is Better Without Notifications

Photo: Cristian Dina (Shutterstock)

Notifications have gotten out of control. What started as a necessary means to keep tabs on important updates from apps and services has spiraled into a tangled mess of spam and unnecessary alerts, by default. We can’t do anything on our smartphones without being interrupted by notification after notification, with the same being true on tablets and computers. Well, enough. You might need some but you don’t need as many as you have right now. 

Which notifications do you really need?

Sure, we all joke that a smartphone is used for everything but phone calls, but it’s not true. Without phone notifications, we’d miss out on everything from important calls from doctors or government agencies to emergency situations from family and friends. You’d probably regret sending all these people to voicemail.

Sure, most of the calls we intercept on a daily basis are spam, and disabling phone notifications would spare us from these scammers. But software features such as “Silence Unknown Callers” have improved the situation. You don’t need to disable phone alerts altogether to keep most spam at bay.

Next up, messaging. Most of us don’t want to miss out on messages from friends and family. While most texts aren’t timely or indicate an emergency, we still want to be in the loop. If you’re consistently missing texts from friends, or open your Messages app to find group threads with dozens of messages, that’s more annoying than the alerts themselves.

Most notifications you can live without

Barring that, though, I think you can disable most other notifications without issue. A look through my Notification Center reveals all the “important” things I missed when I wasn’t near my iPhone: Stories from the New York Times; the Health app congratulating me for getting enough sleep; Snapchat asking me to check out my Memories from five years ago; Instagram letting me know who I should follow, among others. Not to mention, these notifications are stacked, so the true number is always something ridiculous. Who can read through them all anyway?

Some apps are taking things even further, too, abusing their alerts to spam you with ads. I keep notifications on for my Furbo, for example, since it lets me know when my dog is barking when I’m away. I received an alert from them at 5 a.m. advertising a free trial for their paid subscription service. So as of now, the Furbo is unplugged (sorry if my dog barks, neighbors).

We accrue so many apps on our smartphones, tablets, and computers these days that it’s too easy for our notifications to spiral out of control. The better way, I think, is to force yourself to check these notifications and alerts each time you open the app. Rather than have every moment interrupted by one of your many social media apps, a news alert you don’t need to know right now, or an update in one of your games, you should wait until you want to interact with the app to learn these things.

It’s like checking on many little mailboxes spread throughout your devices, rather than having dozens of postal workers shove hundreds of letters through your windows 24/7.

If you can’t disable all notifications, tweak your settings

Everyone’s use case is different, though. For some, nuking all notifications will work out just fine, but, for others, a more refined approach will be necessary. If you’re someone who lives off of calendar and to-do app notifications, those could be tricky to disable. You don’t want to check Google Cal only to see you missed three appointments this morning. Of course, you’re less likely to miss a calendar alert if your Notification Center is free from junk and spam.

If there are apps you want some notifications from but not others, dive into the app’s settings to see what can be done. Take BeReal, for example. I want to know when “it’s time to BeReal,” because that’s the whole point of the app, but I don’t need to know exactly when other people post late, or when they comment on my post. The in-app settings have it covered, since it allows you to disable all notifications other than the main two-minute warning.

When you have some time, look through the notification settings for different apps. You might be surprised to learn how customizable they are, and how many random and irrelevant alerts are turned on without your consent.

Companies are working on notification issue, as well. For Android 13, Google now forces apps to request notifications as an initial permission. No longer will apps be able to spam you by default. If you say no from the get-go, you’ll never hear from that app again. Getting in the habit of disabling notifications for each new app you download will pay off big time.

Apple employs this strategy, too, among others. Since iOS 15, we’ve had Focus, a feature that lets you set up filters to change which notifications you get throughout the day. You can choose to kill all notifications except those from professional apps during work hours, then kill those notifications and switch back to those from friends, family, and approved apps during your off time. There’s also Notification Summary, which saves and gathers your non-urgent alerts into a report you receive once or twice a day.

Whether you take the time to refine your notifications, or you say “screw it” and turn them all off, it’s a problem worth dealing with. Our smartphones should make our lives easier, and even help keep us focused. It doesn’t need to be the other way around.