Notifications and alarms – why it’s time to silence your digital world

Back in the late 1980s, my Nan bought a Grandfather clock for my Grandad. And my grandad was delighted. He set it up and we all waited patiently for the next hour to arrive. Ding-dong-ding-dong it went. We all clapped enthusiastically. Fast-forward a couple of days and the once novel chimes were driving us to distraction. Another couple of days and the bells were silenced, only to be allowed to ring once a year on New Year’s Eve. We didn’t need to be alerted to every passing hour of our lives.

Recently at a family event, I found a rather more modern technology was driving me to distraction. Ding went my Nan’s iPad. Boing went my mother’s phone. Yet another phone announced ‘your son is texting you’ to the whole room. It took a lot of willpower, and a desire to remain on Christmas present lists, not to grab their devices and lob them out the window. And these digital noise offenders weren’t my younger cousins or their kids, these were the boomers and early-born Gen Xers. They seem to have missed the memo on the effects of app notifications and allowing your digital devices to infiltrate every waking moment.

And I wouldn’t mind if they got up and answered the alert. Nope, my Nan’s iPad continued to ‘ding’ away in the corner, each ‘ding’ seemingly getting louder each time it was ignored. She’d acknowledge each ‘ding’ by stopping the conversation, saying ‘oh that’s an email’ and then going back to whatever she was talking about.

Just turn them off

Just to clarify — turn off your notifications, not your grandparents.

I used to be an early adopter of various devices but then I got bored with the faff of setting them up, not to mention the cost. My Samsung phone is five years old and the phone company have given up sending me updates on the latest phone that I ‘really must have’. And in the five years I’ve had the phone the only sound it has ever made is ‘ring’. I will admit that at one point in the mid-90s my Nokia used to play the theme tune to Fraggle Rock, but I have learned my lesson.

The first thing I do whenever something digital comes in the house is turn off all the beeps, dings, bleeps etc. With the exception of my sodding attention-seeking washing machine which I can’t silence — AEG I’m looking at you.

And it’s worth the ten minutes of my life it takes to do this — I know it’s a foreign concept to Gen Z but if something is really that urgent I assume someone will call me.

Pay attention

Those little dings, bings and bleeps do nothing but seek and divert our attention. Some studies suggest that app notifications are to blame for our lack of concentration. Others say that they are a symptom of a society that expects us to be contactable (by work or family and friends) at all times which has a knock on effect on our health and wellbeing. Whichever it is, turning off your notifications solves both problems.

study by Deloitte showed that the average American household has 25 connected devices — that’s a lot of things that go beep. And according to RescueTime we pick up our phones an average of 58 times a day — often in response to a notification. And once you’re on your phone you may as well check the weather or what’s the latest news in Depp vs Heard or Rooney vs Vardy. Now, what was I doing again?

Plus, if like me, you’re someone with hyperacusis (noise sensitivity) the sounds can create anxiety and a reduction in general wellbeing. Add in misophonia (a decreased tolerance to specific sounds) and I’ll be the person sitting next to you on the train plotting increasingly vindictive ways to kill you while your phone beeps away, letting you know there’s a new photo of your cousin’s kid playing football on WhatsApp or some more ‘breaking news’ from the BBC. Think about those around you — an app notification that makes a sound is not only notifying you.

I’m focussing on the sounds devices make here because I write about sound and hearing health. But it doesn’t have to be sound — a red dot or flashing light can be equally distracting — if a little less annoying to those around you.

I’m not dissing tech. After I’ve pressed publish on this story I’ll head over to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to share it. But as much as I’d like you to read this story, it will never be that important that your device has to alert you to its presence.

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