Dec 31, 2020 - Technology

1 peaceful thing: How to actually tune out

Illustration of a hand reaching up out of a pile of notification icons with flames
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Heading into 2021, take a half-hour to give yourself a priceless gift: freedom from notifications.

The big picture: Most smartphone users feel besieged and beset by a horde of banners, badges and beeps demanding their attention — heedless of the power they have to stem, shape or squelch this notification onslaught.

Why it matters: Most of us are too busy, confused or fatalistic to intervene and change our phone's defaults. That puts us at the mercy of every tech platform and app maker that is fighting for precious shards of our attention.

I am a notification nihilist, and I will show you how to be one too. These recommendations are good for the holiday weekend. But if you do this once, you won't ever want to go back.

But remember: With all the different messaging app options available to us today, if you give them all notification privileges, you're doomed.

  • I've been on Twitter since 2007 and I have never once seen a Twitter notification. Maybe that's why I still like Twitter.
  • Do you really want notifications when you receive email? Doesn't that defeat the whole point of email, which is that you choose when to look at it?
  • Each time you install a new app, particularly those from e-commerce companies, when the app asks for permission to send you notifications, click "no" and strike a blow for your own sanity.
  • If you're a news junkie and want lots of news notifications, then go crazy. Otherwise, pick a single news app you trust and give only that provider the ability to send you news notifications.

"But I need to get notifications for my job!" you say? All right — you can still be a notification minimalist.

  • Figure out what your work essentials are, and turn those notifications back on.
  • If your work isn't the kind that demands minute-by-minute responses, consider ways to build a routine where you check for messages on your own schedule instead of messages coming after you.
  • Don't forget to set a "Do not disturb" period on your phone for late night/sleep hours.

Even when you've granted a select few notifications the right to hijack your brain, you can still take them on your own terms.

  • You can choose to receive banners on your phone lock screen, for instance, but turn off sound alerts.

Yes, but: Choosing this low-notification path doesn't guarantee you will find peace of mind.

  • Without a horde of apps pounding on the doors of your consciousness, you might find yourself with more time to think about real things that trouble you, rather than whatever is rustling the hive mind at any given moment.
  • At least you — and not some algorithmic estimate of what tidbit might best seize your attention — will be the author of your own discontent.
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