Taking Charge Of My Attention

Over the past few weeks I’ve experimented with leaving my Phone at home when I head out for the day. The release of iOS Screen Time shocked me. Having a look at my raw usage data around how much I was using my devices/apps pushed me into trying some big changes like leaving my Phone behind.

No surprise, I haven’t really missed my phone. What made the shift possible was that my Watch lets me do the communication-in-a-pinch and payment stuff I need during the day when I’m not near an iPad or laptop.

That said, I wish I had my phone with me when I want to take a picture of something, and when I want to use a home automation app. That’s pretty much it though. If I can keep this up I’m going to look into a point-n-shoot camera I can tote around in lieu of the Phone.

As this experiment evolved, my awareness (experiential as well as stats from Screen Time) surrounding Notifications heightened. Possibly more poisonous to society than screen time itself, is the interrupt driven life we lead thanks to Notifications.

I vividly remember when Apple released Notifications on iOS. I was enamored and immediately foresaw a future wherein asynchronous, rich, notifications would allow deep-linking into our apps. Well we’re pretty much there and it’s a nightmare come true (just go look at your Settings->Screen Time->Notifications). Remember when you realized you were a Pavlovian dog hitting “get mail” every time your mail client would ding at you about new mail? Transfer that behavior to dozens of apps on your mobile device. Dopamine drip. Drip. Drip.

I’m slowly shutting Notifications off completely (Watch, iOS, and OSX) in most of my apps as I realize that I really don’t need to know, save for just a few cases, when some app has something to say. When I want to know something, I’ll go check it out on my own; on my time, not someone else’s who is simply trying to “drive engagement.” Needless to say the meaning of “breaking news” left us long ago, so I don’t need those notifications.

One elusive app has been the Phone app which rings with spam all day long. I installed an app called Hiya which does a great job blocking the non-sense.

Unfortunately neither iOS nor OSX support system-wide Notification disable. You can kind of hack around it with extended “Do Not Disturb” schedules, but you wind up doing damage in other areas that way.

In the communications app category (iMessage... email) I’ve realized there’s a missing level of Notification behavior that I’d like to see. Something like “Response Notifications.” As A User, I Want To know when someone has responded to communications I have initiated, In Order To receive notifications I care most about. If I initiate an exchange, I want to be notified when others respond. If someone initiates an exchange with me, I’ll get to it on my time.

I can hear the people that have been saying “do you really need to check your mail or text that person as you walk down the street” for a decade now, ringing in my ear. Guess what, I don’t.

Digital life is messy.

Jud Valeski

Jud Valeski

Parent, photographer, mountain biker, runner, investor, wagyu & sushi eater, and a Boulderite. Full bio here: https://valeski.org/jud-valeski-bio
Boulder, CO