Stop Listening to a Rock

I went to a craft fair once and there was a rock that had “turn me over” written on it, when I picked it up and turned it over, it read “haha, you just took instructions from a rock”. I thought that was pretty funny.

Phones are kinda the same, if you think about it. There’s a notification/ping, you pick it up, and then an app is telling you to open it, & you do. When boiled down, phones are basically just metal, sand, and oil, & we’re taking instructions from them. Not so funny now, & kinda a crappy thought.

Our phones feel like a magic portal between the things we care about and people we love, and that’s great, but shimmed in the middle of that are algorithms, marketing firms, ads, stake holders, etc, to ensure that bridge is as lucrative and as frequently used as possible (I won’t get into that any more, this movie explains it well enough).

I’ve long been an advocate of no notifications, for the aforementioned reasons and also to help focus on deep work. I believe any device should simply be a tool, used for an intentional purpose when you need it, not a device that interrupts you and attempts to bid for your actions, for gain, with suggestions and recommendations.

I believe notifications should induce a feeling of dread, not joy. Notifications, in my opinion, should be saved for critical or urgent matters only – everything else should be async, done at leisure. Perception of words is relative, so let’s define a bit: “critical” means of upmost importance, that it’s absence would be unacceptable – think notifications for your work meetings so you’re not constantly late & then at risk of loosing your job. “Urgent,” fields anything that could be a time sensitive emergency situation that you need to act on or else – think being able to receive calls from your partner if their car breaks down at the side of the road.

When setting up any new device, after I install all my dozen of apps I head to the notification settings panel, and turn off every single notification in a quick first pass. No thought here, no decision fatigue going through 30 of them – just everything off. Then I begin a second pass, and I start to think deeply about each app, “Could a notification from this be urgent or critical?” Nearly all are an easy “no”.

I typically end up with just Phone, Message, and Calendar notifications turned on. From there I can do more granular per-app refining to ensure spam calls aren’t getting through, and Calendar pings are only relevant to the important events. All and all it only takes a couple of minutes to do, and probably saves a ton of time in the long run.

Admittedly after implementing this the phone does start to seem a lot more boring when it stops being that source of notification endorphins, but I think that’s a good thing. I highly recommend not listening to rocks, for me, for the last couple of years it has made my life like 2% better, which is a pretty good thing.

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