Are Notifications Driving us Crazy?

How do you start your morning?

If you’re like me, your morning routine will look a little something like this: You roll over to turn the alarm off at six-bloody-thirty. You scroll through the list of notifications on your phone and mentally prioritise them from most interesting to most boring.

You check the texts you received overnight (because you’re a grandma and go to bed at 9:30 pm), followed by your Instagram and Facebook notifications. Finally, you note the work emails that have come through (while thinking “I am going to save those until I start getting paid, thank you very much!”).

Then you roll out of bed.

I do this morning routine because I am curious to see what’s happening online, but also because I have a burning desire to clear out the red symbols that pop up when I have unread emails, text messages, likes, snaps or tweets.

Sound familiar? Not surprising…

No, I am not stalking you… we’re just all addicted

Notifications, or drugs for your mind?

Our need for new information is unquenchable. So much so, it can at times feel like our basic need for food, love and sleep has been overridden.

As it turns out, this insatiable curiosity for new information is hard-wired into us. It’s called our seeking system. The juice that fuels this system is dopamine, commonly known as the brain’s happy drug.

Receiving notifications triggers the release of dopamine. It makes you feel good, like high-as-a-kite, on-drugs kind of good. And because it makes us feel so good we seek out activities, or substances that keep this system around – it’s why cocaine, speed and ice are highly sought after, they are particularly effective at stirring up our seeking system.

Like these drugs, notifications are addictive.

They make us feel like this.

To make matters worse, the seeking system is activated by a particular cue that a reward is coming. To maximise their impact, cues should be small, discrete and specific – like the bell Pavlov rang for his dogs. If this is all ringing a lot of bells (excuse the pun), it should because, yep, you guessed it, our ringtones are all small, discrete and very specific to the type of notification we are receiving. When our phones ring or vibrate announcing a new text message or similar, our brains are telling us a reward is imminent. When we respond we get a little nugget of news, never enough to fully satisfy but enough to keep us on the edge of our seat for the next notification. And so the addictive cycle begins.

Our brain has hard-wired us to love notifications and that’s why they are so dangerous. So what impact does our addiction to notifications have?

Catchya productivity, it was nice knowing ya!

The constant information overload puts our productivity levels at risk. After being distracted by an email, text or social media notification, it takes us on average 25 minutes to get back to whatever we were doing beforehand. For one in three of us, it can be up to 2 hours!

I am just as surprised as you are.

I don’t know whether to be shocked at that statistic or embarrassed that I apparently have such a small attention span…

But seriously, think about how many notifications you get in a day (about 63.5 for those who can’t be bothered to use their imagination) and multiply that by the number of minutes wasted. Now write a sweet, sweet eulogy for our lost friend; productivity. It was nice knowing you.

Looks like I will never finish uni…

I suppose that’s why I am only halfway through my blog post. Those pesky notifications…!

Turns out, notifications are shitty, little things

Beyond the fact that they are bloody distracting, notifications, particularly Facebook notifications, make us feel bad about ourselves. They tap into our innate human need for social belonging. If we don’t get the notifications we want, FOMO (fear of missing out) sets in and we begin the destructive cycle of social comparison.

Hey friend…watcha doin’

We can all relate to feeling depressed when friends seem to be getting more notifications than us. And sadly, these notifications turn us into green-eyed monsters. They pit us against our friends and our self-doubt convinces us that we’re losing the battle. The more we check our social media apps in search of notifications, the more we start to believe that our friends are happier and leading better lives than us.

I don’t know about you, but that is so depressing.

No, literally. It is depressing. Social media use has been linked to feelings of social anxiety, isolation, loneliness and depression. Plus, it has been found to negatively exacerbate mental health predispositions and it’s no wonder, notifications are stressful. The feeling of constantly having to be in communication with people can be overwhelming.

This will be us.

In the email world, it’s a phenomenon known as ‘email pressure’. Sadly for me (and probably you), email pressure is highest in young people and those working in Marketing, PR, Media and IT industries.

It feels a bit like this.

But the negatives around notifications get worse, bear with me.

Notifications are so distracting that they are featured front-and-centre of the latest road safety campaign. The ads attempt to educate drivers that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds (likely to check a notification) can have devastating impacts.

While I am the first to admit that I tune out during every one of these ads (and I know that I am not alone… don’t deny it!), they do point out that notifications can kill. Without getting to [cue Law and Order’s iconic ‘dun dun’], driver distraction contributed to 25 deaths on Queensland roads in 2015.

So what now?

As it turns out, there could be a downside to all of the benefits mobile technology provides. We might be able to work from anywhere on our smartphones or tablets, but such mobility and accessibility come at a cost – too much technology may very well be ruining our lives.

Thankfully, there are things that can be done to minimise these impacts. These include:

  1. Changing your notification settings to ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’.
  2. Or customising them so only the most important ones come through. Goodbye, boring work emails and distracting snapchats. You can wait until I come to you thanks!
  3. Lastly, try a social media detox. I hear it’s supposed to be good for you, although I am not sure I am quite ready to part way with my beloved Instagram, even if it is the single most distracting thing in my life.

How do you deal with push notification stress? Share with us in the comments below.

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