The Notification Paradox: To check or not to check…

“You Won’t Finish Reading This Article” is a column focused on YOU and the device you’re holding in your hand right now. This piece of Glass has changed the world, and it may have changed the way we think. 

This edition is about how the need to stay notified is changing our lives.  

Buzz… Buzz… Buzz… 

Is that the sound of your friends arguing in the group chat again, or is it a series of important messages from your boss? 

With your phone flipped face down on the table, you can’t know unless you pick it up and check. At that moment, for a lot of people today, their glass portal becomes a worry machine. A flurry of thoughts quickly fills your mind, as it fights between checking or leaving it alone.

But you got to check, what if it’s important!? Check your phone, you got to check it!

Eventually, you cave in. Maybe out of boredom or worry or just plain curiosity, but there you are, back scrolling again.

And therein lies the notification paradox, the age-old question of “to check or not to check”.

Humans, as social beings, naturally thrive in communities, and are driven by an instinctive need to build friendships and form bonds. We could always communicate efficiently when we were face to face, but over long distances, it was near impossible. No matter how far you look back in history, there have always been tools, customs, and even jobs focused on spreading and sending information. This need to send information across long distances has been one of the primary factors that encouraged innovation throughout the ages. Whether it be using intricate smoke signals, carrier pigeons, sending mail, or even building telephone lines across the globe, we have always wanted to stay notified.

Today, we have a supercomputer in our pockets that can communicate with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. This has caused a tipping point for the first time in human history where, one could argue, we have become too connected. The problem has always existed, it’s just worse now because of how interconnected we are.

The reality is that the growing number of instant messaging and social media apps have made it so that notifications feel unavoidable. A lot of these apps thrive on keeping people on them for as long as possible. So, when apps like Instagram send you a notification like “your friend posted for the first time in a while”, it preys on our innate need to be connected. Simple notifications like these can subtly push us into habitually checking our phones to feel like we are staying updated.

This problem of notifications is worsened by the fact that our phones now serve multiple different aspects of our lives. The seamless integration of our personal and professional lives on one device, while fostering convenience, has blurred the boundaries of privacy and rest. It’s hard to know if something is actually important without checking.

A solution people naturally found to this was, if you called someone, then the situation was important. This still holds true today, but spam calls and the fact that the majority of young people keep their phones on silent have introduced even more challenges to this complex situation.

A more up-to-date solution lies not in forsaking technology entirely but in redefining our relationship with it.

Using focus modes like ‘do not disturb’ while studying or sleeping provides a good way to stop all notifications, other than the most important ones – like a person calling you five times. Ultimately, it comes down to deciding what is important, and what deserves to even have the permission to notify you. Do you really need notifications from Instagram if you’re going to check it once a day anyway?

Other steps, such as setting shortcuts to turn off certain notifications depending on location or even just reserving a specific period during the day to turn off your phone, go a long way to tuning out the digital noise.

It’s easy to forget, but true connection lies not in the beeps and buzzes, but in the quiet moments we carve out for ourselves and for those near and dear to us.

Abishai Sujith (he/him) is a QUT student (Bachelor of Urban Development) and a content creator. With a keen eye for the intersection of technology and everyday life, he delves into the impact of emerging technologies. Abishai is driven by a passion to understand how our daily lives are shaped by design, construction and technology.

Abishai Sujith
Abishai Sujith
Articles: 4

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