Facetune occasionally talked to me. That's even sadder than a social media network reminding me it exists, because I've opened Facetune maybe once in my life. Also, I'm on to you, Amazon Prime Photo: You tell me to revisit my memories every single morning. Once per week might actually make me want to check in on the past, but seriously, every day? And it comes on a schedule: 11 AM Pacific, on the dot. I actually started keeping time by it. A midmorning ding from my pocket? It must mean that Amazon wants me to engage with one of its products, and it's about time to get to my gym appointment. Even Kindle sent me notifications about what's trending. I'm sorry, Kindle, but you should be a safe, zen space. I go to Kindle to get lost in long text and block out the world, so stop chirping at me.
Yelp gets the award for creepiest notifications. Whenever I arrived in a new place, I'd get an alert to the effect of "Hey! We see you're in Glendale. Have you tried the Starbucks?" This is actually disturbing, and I never really got used to it, even though I was getting them multiple times per day. Please stop following me around and telling me to eat and shop. It was so nakedly dystopian at some point that it was either a post-capitalist parody or someone at Yelp HQ was making a plea for help: "Hi! I see you're near Yelp headquarters. Can you save me?"
Much ink has been spilled on the dating-app ecosystem's game theory to keep users engaged and swiping. The notification plan is as you would expect: match and chat notifications and the occasional reminder that no matter whatever else you are doing right now, you could be swiping instead. The only observation I'd throw into the mix is the question of what the hell is up with Bumble? At some point, it began pushing me mushy, feel-good self-help messages like it's a lifestyle brand and not a place to meet Instagram thirst traps. Dating apps may be many things, but one thing they are not: life-affirming.
Weeks of this nonsense wears on you, and through the experiment one thing became abundantly clear: The off days, when notifications were on zero, were a true blessing. They provided not only a relief but also a whole new outlook on life. Days without notifications felt more full, and more full of possibility. There's a simple reason why: I could hold my concentration for longer than half an hour.
At some point, thinking about notifications and attention becomes an epistemic, if not existential, question. What is attention, actually, and what happens when you fraction it, when you commodify it? Many philosophers say that attention is consciousness. You are only yourself through the act of concentration, through your reaction to what you are focusing on. But then, if this is true, the internet is literally trying to exploit and monetize your consciousness, your very being. In this light, the idea of an "attention economy" is a freakish perversion and the notification itself an assault on humanity.
Maybe I'm overthinking this. On a simple level, during these weeks, I learned that as a writer, I need a good chunk of uninterrupted time (2-3 hours) to allow the creative process to unfold. Sure, I like and need distractions, but those only work on my own terms -- not on my phone's terms. In fact, when notifications are on, it's not hard to start seeing your phone as a toxic presence in your life, a friend who saps your energy, drags you down and begs you to pay attention to them but offers you little in return.
Do yourself a favor: Turn all of your notifications down to the bare minimum for a week and see if it improves your attention span and, by extension, your entire self. Chances are you won't go back. Just, whatever you do, don't crank them to maximum.