I spend a lot of time looking at screens. Most of my work, hobbies, and conversations take place online, which is fine by me. The internet is cool — or at least it used to be. As of late, it’s been growing increasingly exhausting. An endless cycle of milkshake ducks, bad news, and disinformation, lurking in the corner of every screen. I’m not alone. A number of outlets even dubbed 2017 the Year of the Push Alert, as our collective digital anxiety came to a head last year.
Tech companies are well aware of the problem. Apple’s next operating system, iOS 12, which will likely be released next month, is an admission of guilt: Notifications come grouped by app so they don’t overwhelm people, and time limit controls are built-in to allow users to keep track of how many hours they’ve spent stalking their ex’s sister’s new boyfriend on Facebook. Earlier this year, Google announced a similar set of features designed to help Android users “Take A Break” from their phones. With new time-spent tools from Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, you can spend more time on the apps, seeing how much time you spend on the apps.
Being online has become synonymous with being available: friends, bosses, telemarketers, dumb Facebook birthday reminders, unwarranted all-caps “BREAKING” news alerts — they all get to claim a sliver of our attention now simply because they’re there in our periphery. But they don’t have to be.
There’s nothing tech columnists love more than waxing poetically about “disconnecting” from their no-good, very bad devices. They’ve done away with it all and came out the other side with 3,000 words about how they are no longer boorish and unenlightened like the rest of us. While I’m sure there probably is some merit in chucking your phone in the ocean and meditating for a couple of weeks on the print media industry’s dime, the reality is that that’s not a realistic or remotely helpful suggestion for the average person, nor should it be. The real solution is somewhere in between, and its name is permanent Do Not Disturb mode.
Yes, Do Not Disturb mode, that underused feature on your Android or Apple device that silences all notifications and vibrations and was ostensibly designed to help you sleep better. Turn it on. Forever. Never turn it off.
Think I’m crazy?
Check your phone right now. How many notifications do you have? How many notifications have you received over the last 24 hours? As I’m typing this there are 37 glaring at me from my lockscreen: 20 from Twitter, eight emails, seven texts, and two Google Calendar notifications. Don’t mistake this for a humble brag — believe me, I’m neither particularly cool nor popular — I just haven’t checked my phone since sunup. And by god, it feels incredible.
I haven’t technically missed anything. The notifications are all there on my screen waiting for me if I really feel the need to know what’s going on, but that decision now happens on my terms. My phone never buzzes or beeps — unless someone calls me more than twice in a row, which is a setting I turned on in case of emergency — and the screen never flashes some distracting reminder of all the other nonsense I could be giving my attention. Even when my phone is open or in use, all the alerts stay neatly tucked away in the pulldown menu.
I’ve been living like this for about eight months or so and I honestly don’t think I could ever go back. Sure, the downside is I don’t answer texts and emails immediately, but the upside is I don’t answer texts and emails immediately. It’s fantastically relaxing and comes with the added bonus of giving your friends and loved ones the impression you’re doing something interesting or fulfilling with your life, rather than just scrolling through Twitter and not continually responding to the pressure of push notifications.
Unlike the more nuclear option of doing away with push notifications entirely, long-term use of Do Not Disturb mode doesn’t leave me stuck bouncing from app to app in order to gauge what I missed. All of the dumb texts, emails, and reminders are there, waiting to be read; they just look a little different a couple of hours after the fact. They feel less overwhelmingly urgent and more like what they actually are: words on a screen that can be dealt, according to urgency, when you have the time.