Digital suffocation.

It’s dawned on me how incessant and intrusive phone notifications are. I may be realising this late.

About two months ago I installed an app called 360 Security on my Android phone. One of the many functions it had was a ‘Notification Manager’. I switched it on and let it do it’s thing. A week ago my battery started draining more than usual so I uninstalled everything that wasn’t essential. 360 Security didn’t make the cut.

Only then did I realise the volume of what the ‘Notification Manager’ was suppressing. Since uninstalling it I have been bombarded with constant notifications. I’m not an avid social media user so I can’t begin to think what it would be like if I were.

It’s suffocating. Digital is suffocating us.

We are addicted.

When we receive phone notifications it sets off a chemical release of dopamine in our brains. This makes us feel satisfied and gives us pleasure. It’s the same reaction we get from the thrill of gambling or the excitement of sex.

Neuroscience research shows that anticipation and unpredictability are even more addictive. Think about placing a bet on a horse. Whether it wins or loses, you feel good. And you want to get more of that feeling.

Phone alerts are no different. They are both anticipated and unpredictable. It’s why on average people check their phones 85 times a day. That’s 5 times every hour you are awake. It’s why after sending a message, you’ll see people frantically checking their phone to see if there is a reply. It’s why sometimes we hear our phones go off, even though they haven’t. The feeling of anticipation followed by reward is irresistible to our brains.

It’s scary isn’t it? This can’t be good for our mental health.

We are distracted.

Notifications are distractions. They interrupt our concentration and they cause constant context switching.

At work they distract us from our focus. The quality of what we produce goes down, we make more errors and we lose job satisfaction. We enjoy work less.

At home we don’t spend quality time with loved ones. We wake up in the morning and stare at our phones. We eat dinner with a fork in one hand and phone in the other. We read about what online strangers are doing, rather than listen to each other in the “real world”.

With friends we have less meaningful conversations. We sit at the pub and most people are staring at our phones. Conversation is to occasional grunt. We rarely talk about things that really matter.

It’s scary isn’t it? This can’t be good for our well being.

We are reliant.

The blinking red light on your Blackberry. The reminder that you’ve got a meeting in ten minutes. The notification telling you its time to drink some water.

Are we really that incapable of managing ourselves and our time that we have become so reliant on a mobile phone? We’re so reliant on them that being without them can cause stress and anxiety.

It’s scary isn’t it? This can’t be good for our mental aptitude.

We are suffocated.

This all leads to digital suffocation. We don’t get the headspace and time we need to think. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep we’re suffocated by notifications. By everything and everyone vying for our immediate attention.

To be creative we need space to think. We need to let our minds wander. We need to give ourselves the chance to connect random thoughts together and spark innovation. Have you ever noticed how your best ideas come when you’re not distracted? In the shower, whilst running, when you wake up in the middle of the night.

Time to take control.

Two years ago I noticed myself checking Facebook as soon as I woke up. So I stopped using Facebook. More recently I noticed muscle memory opening Slack automatically (our work chat application). So I installed a parental lock on my phone. It forbids me from using work apps on my personal phone at the weekends and in the evenings. In a minute I’ll be finding a new ‘Notification Manager’ to suppress unwanted notifications. Hell, I might even try turning them off altogether.

I need space to think, breathe and relax. To be less computer and more human. And so do you.

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