Here is a quote – If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century,. I should simply say, in the name of God,. stop a moment, cease your work,. look around you.
According to Blue Cross and Blue Shield, from 2013 to 2016, the diagnosis of major depression has increased by 33 percent10. The scenario is worse in the case of children from the 12 – 17 years, where the increase is 63 percent. This change goes hand-in-hand with the time we spend on our phones, which, according to comScore’s 2017 Cross-Platform Future in Focus report, has now become about 2 hours 51 minutes for an average American adult11. However, it isn’t actually the time that we spend on our smartphones that is harming us, it is what we are doing at that time. This is where push notifications come into the picture.
What are push notifications?
Push notifications are the notifications that pop up on our phones with a ping and significantly divert (or disrupt) our attention. Almost all the information that we encounter in such a way is useless. It could be a message from a useless WhatsApp group someone added us to, or about someone liking our picture on Facebook or Instagram, or it could just be some sort of news or discount offer pushed to us by some application that we installed accidentally. No matter what it is, when we get such a notification, we hear a ping on our phone, which makes us check our phones at least a few times a day. According to a 2016 study by Deloitte, the average person checks his or her phone approximately 47 times a day12.
Attention is money
Our helpless tendency to look at our phones is of great value. Not to us, of course, but to the people who want our attention. Generally, these are the people who want to sell us something, want to change our thinking so that it better suits their purpose or just want our attention because, in the world of the Internet and the media, attention is money. No matter who they are or what they want, they mostly consider their own benefit and use the attention of their viewers as just a tool for the same.
Push notifications have emerged as a game-changer for these people. Now they don’t have to do much to grab your attention; they just need to find out which app you happen to use, and then they can pay the app’s company a decent sum to push whatever information they want on you. While using an app, our actions and preferences are monitored – and usually what we encounter as useful information has been carefully selected according to our taste. It is like putting a particular dish in a rat trap because the rat happens to like it.
So, in this bargain, the app’s company is gaining money, the information provider is gaining our attention, and we, as the viewers, just turn into commercial scapegoats.
How push notifications disrupt our daily lives
According to Gloria Mark of the University of California, after one diversion by a push notification, it takes us about 25 minutes to regain our concentration. If we multiply this duration by the number of times the average person looks at his phone, it covers nearly our entire day. This means that these push notifications are stealing our attention in a very tangible way. Paying attention to what is on our phone, we lose the ability to pay the same attention to the world, which ultimately leads to problems like lack of concentration and anxiety. This is not a theoretical conclusion. A study by members of the American Psychological Association has successfully linked the decrease in the psychological well-being of American adults after 2012 to the rise of smartphone technology14. The following story explains how this happens in our lives.
The story of the guy with the smartphone
Let’s take the case of a guy named Paul, who has a smartphone, and who just woke up after a late-night chat with one of his friends. After waking up, he checked his phone again. The picture that he posted last night on Instagram didn’t get enough likes. Paul, who was already exhausted by lack of sleep, began feeling worse. So he switched to WhatsApp, where he saw funny things posted by funny people in his life. Because it was all funny, he forwarded it to all the other groups, and people on those groups found it funny, too. That made Paul happy. After that, as he began to reply to the messages he had received on his equally funny Whatsapp story, he saw the time and realized that he was already late for office.
Paul had promised his mother that he would fetch milk that day, but he was out of time, so he couldn’t do that. However, he didn’t worry much about it as he knew that his mother would understand. He reached his office a little late. It was usual for him to come late. He was directed straight to his boss’s cabin, where his boss asked him about the progress of his work. Paul said that the work was almost done and it would be completed within a few hours.
Since he wasn’t supposed to do much, Paul started replying to all the messages that he had received on his story. He found it impossible to do his work, which seemed exceedingly simple and uninteresting. And thus time passed. Finally, Paul looked at the clock. He had made hardly any progress in his work, and the time for its submission was nearing. Then, as Paul started working, he came to realize that the work was not only uninteresting but also extremely difficult. Therefore, he sent a mail to his boss saying that the work was not easy and he would need one more day to finish it completely. Paul’s boss invited him to his cabin and rebuked him for his usual negligence.
We cannot ignore real life
In the above story, if Paul could find a way of fusing himself with social media apps and leaving reality altogether, all his problems would be solved. However, this is not how life is. We cannot escape reality. Social media has been carefully customized to serve our emotional needs and to pamper our insecurities. The reality, on the other hand, is at times cruel and uncertain. If we start ignoring reality by treating social media as an alternative to it, we will be in for a surprise, or rather, a shock. At some point, reality will make its presence felt in one way or the other.
Paul is a negligent fellow. All the people who use smartphones might not be that negligent. But, let’s face it, it is scientifically proven that our brain is not good at multitasking. If we are paying attention to our phone and working at the same time, it is impossible for us to focus on both of them, as we would like to do. Usually, it is the less interesting task that suffers, which, in the majority of cases, is our work.
Breaking free from the push notification world
The Internet and social media do have many advantages. However, push notifications symbolize the worst that they have to offer. They are the face of all the non-urgent and unimportant information that ultimately ends up consuming most of our precious time. To make our lives happier and more productive, it is necessary that we assume control of this process and remove all types of push notifications from our smartphones. Don’t worry, the messages on Whatsapp can wait, and your friends can call you if they have something extremely urgent to tell you. You should give yourself a reality check first and move out of the dystopian world of the Internet and social media. It might seem hard at first, but if you follow a systematic approach, you can make it happen. Here’s how you can go about it.
Recognize that there is a problem
It is a human tendency to point fingers at others when we are at fault. You might say that your boss is haughty, or that the people around you are too demanding. But the problem might be within you. If more and more people are telling you that you spend too much of your time on your phone, then maybe you should look into the matter. Don’t consider this an insult. Just take some time off and think about it. How much time do you spend on your phone? What do you actually do? Have you become addicted to your smartphone?
Try giving up social media and the Internet for a week or more. Fill the time with something else. Start reading a book, visit the gym regularly, go out with friends or simply join a hobby class. If you feel bored, and keep craving digital information, you might be a smartphone addict.
Identify your true friends
Social media shows us a very unrealistic face of everything. It makes you feel that you have thousands of friends when in reality, you don’t. The people whom you talked to about a decade ago, and who still like all your pictures, aren’t your friends. Get their number and call them up. Most of them won’t even recognize you, and if they do, they might try to end the conversation as soon as possible. That’s not how friends are supposed to be.
To identify your true friends, you can perform this simple exercise. Make a list of the top fifty or thirty friends from your social media profile, exchange numbers with them, and call them up (if you don’t call them usually). Ask them about their lives, and see if you can plan something. It might go smoothly the first time. Call them again after a month. This time, if they behave awkwardly and seem offended or irritated, don’t make them wait. Finish the conversation as quickly as possible and strike them off your list. After excluding them, if you are left with anyone, you have identified your true friends.
Once you find such friends, don’t just connect with them virtually. Try to plan something. You can go out on long walks, spend holidays together, visit each other occasionally and have a nice chat at home. Turning off push notifications will help you significantly with all these activities. Social media is just a poor alternative to reality. You will realize this when you become social in the real sense.
Keep a low information diet
There’s a huge gulf between what we want to do, and what we actually do. Nothing makes it more evident than the type of information we browse through every day. We know that feeding on celebrity gossip or laughing at silly jokes on WhatsApp is just a waste of time. But this is what we end up doing when we are idle. Sorry to burst your bubble, but this won’t work. You must bring back your long-lost awareness if you want to effect a change in your life.
Keep a low information diet. Make a habit of sifting through information. Follow only the informational pages on social media that you find truly helpful in day-to-day life. Unsubscribe from, unfollow, or leave all the ‘unimportant’ groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or whichever social media platform you use. Uninstall apps that are wasting your precious time and completely turn off push notifications. Rather than following something, it would be better if you hunt for information online, and search for some reliable sources, which aren’t necessarily the most popular ones.
Limit your screen time. Make books your primary sources of information and try reading voraciously. Never trust information that is brought to you by an unofficial source. Never believe in anything without going through the facts. Just stick to the information sources that actually satisfy your intellect, and bookmark them. Remember, you will never find things that really matter to you unless you stop spending your time on things that don’t.