It seems like I can’t go ten minutes without feeling a buzz in my pocket or a ding in my backpack as my phone begs me to check it. Oh, look, it’s a snapchat from that one person who sends an update every thirty seconds of the day. Oh, hey, CNN is here to tell me that we’re one step closer to nuclear war with North Korea.
Even if I manage to escape from the hellacious onslaught of notifications for more than five seconds, I can’t help but pull out my phone anyway. What if I got an email from that student organization I’m not even a part of anymore? Perhaps a new Instagram story from someone I haven’t talked to since high school?
After a while, it hit me. I didn’t even care. I was looking at my phone every few seconds, only to scroll through notifications and social media and then put it down again completely unsatisfied. I didn’t particularly want to pull my phone out so much, I just felt like I had to. I felt like an addict, taking a hit just to get a momentary buzz as soon as the last one faded.
That’s no accident. The apps we use, the software on our phones, even the shapes and colors of the buttons we press; they’re all designed to capture our attention and get us hooked. Tech industry insiders have come out to explain how programmers build social networks and operating systems with that in mind. The more your eyes are on their screens, the more ads they can show you and the more money they make.
But there’s a way to fight back. You can tinker with the settings on your phone to minimize the effects of that addictive design and only look at your phone when you want to, not when it tells you to.
Turn off notifications
How often to do you swipe open on a notification and find something you actually needed to see? Sure, there are important alerts that you’ll need to check with relative immediacy, but you’ll be surprised at how many “Facebook memories” and “Twitter moments” notifications can pass by before you even remember to check those networks.
Cut down on notifications that aren’t absolutely imperative, and you’ll find that you don’t really miss them too much.
Turn on “Do Not Disturb”
Most smartphones have a setting that turns off beeps and buzzes and rings whenever notifications pop up. How often do you pick up your phone to check a single notification only to get sucked into fifteen minutes of aimless browsing afterwards?
If your phone isn’t barking at you to look at its screen every single time a message comes in, you can take as long as you want between phone checks without feeling like you’re missing anything. It helps you stay on task and feel in control of your own time.
Not every Snapchat from your best friend needs an immediate response. Few will be frustrated if you take ten minutes instead of two to get back to a text. And you can always whitelist your mom and your boss just to make sure you don’t miss anything important.
Delete social media apps
Going cold turkey is seldom an easy approach, but if you’re really feeling addicted, deleting social media apps from your phone might be a necessary fix. It’s hard to ignore the temptation to check Facebook and Twitter when all you have to do is click the logo sitting on your home screen.
I noticed that I was sometimes opening social media without even realizing it, as if it were muscle memory. By deleting the apps, you give yourself one extra hurdle to checking those networks. You can always visit those sites in a mobile web browser, so you don’t have to quit them entirely.
Switch your colors to grayscale
Part of the attention-grabbing capability of your phone lies in the colors it uses on screen. Bright alarm reds and sickly-sweet greens and blues are all meant to catch your eye and call your attention to parts of the screen. If you switch your phone from full color to black and white, you can neuter the power of the bright colors. Your eye isn’t called to the little number one in a red circle if the circle isn’t red.
These steps can be implemented all at once or rolled out gradually over time.
They’re not for everyone, but it can be a surprisingly relieving feeling to be less beholden to a steady stream of notifications. Take some time to think about why, when and how often you check your phone, and you might just find that you want to cut back.