June 27, 2022

Market and Financial News

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Your phone’s notification settings and the meaning of life

2 min read

Switching to a new phone is easy enough these days. The wheezing older model formed a huddle with the shiny oversized new thing, and within a few minutes had effected a near-complete digital handover. One exception was the notification settings. As they reset to the default, my new phone began to beep and buzz incessantly, like the strange offspring of R2-D2 and a cheap vibrator.

A photo app started trying to sell me a print album. A train ticket app prodded me not to forget my upcoming journeys. The Financial Times app urged me to read the latest headlines. More disturbing, Google News installed itself and did the same thing, except for news sources I don’t follow and don’t want to. Most absurd of all, every single incoming email announced itself with a beep and a teasing extract on my home screen. Fortunately, I don’t have social media on my smartphone; I could only imagine the cacophony if I did.

This was all simple enough to fix. Calendar, text messages and phone calls are now the only apps allowed to interrupt me. Still, it was annoying. I wondered: surely everyone switches off most notifications, right? Right?

Perhaps not. I stumbled upon an essay by Guardian columnist Coco Khan marvelling at how much calmer she felt after turning off notifications. She described this peace as completely unexpected, “an unintended consequence of a tiny tweak”. She went on to explain that WhatsApp alone had sent her more than 100 notifications a day and that she had only muted the apps because she’d been on holiday in Bali, and the phone was buzzing all night. As well it might, given that social media notifications were still on. She felt calmer when this stopped. Who could have predicted that?

On the face of it, it is absurd that she was surprised. But it is always easier to be wise about other people. I read Khan’s account as a cautionary tale for all of us. We humans can adapt to a lot; it’s easy to sleepwalk into a state…

2022-06-24 00:00:16

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