Serving the Device ➝

Joe Caiati:

I decided to think about what exactly is waking up my iPhone and vying for my attention. After going through these app’s settings and discovering that most of them have fine-grained notifications, I was able to shut off a lot of distractions. […]

I am finally trying to make my device serve me. I may not have broken the urge to wake the screen up to see if I missed a notification, but with less of them coming in, I can put my iPhone back in my pocket and focus on more important matters.

I’ve always been very aggressive about denying a newly downloaded application’s ability to send me notifications. I’d rather turn them on later if I found the app to be useful — which happens very rarely. But, I know that most people don’t deal with notifications in the same way and often allow them from apps they’d rather not.

On a recent episode of The Vergecast, Nilay Patel noted that he thinks the new way to gauge if someone is bad at computers is by checking to see how cluttered their notifications are. And, I think he’s right. Tech-savvy users seem more likely to be in-tune with how distracting notifications can be and more willing to actually tweak the settings necessary to limit those distractions.

And, this whole conversation really is about distractions — about striking the right balance between staying informed about the stuff you care most about and eliminating your phone’s ability to steal your attention. It reminds me of something I heard Merlin Mann talk about years ago (I have no idea where). He talked about how incredible it was that people allow their phone to steal their attention regardless of what they’re doing — that people have a compulsion to answer it whenever it rings.

Merlin suggested breaking yourself of that habit so you could maintain focus on what you are doing and get back to whoever called when it’s more convenient for you. I think notifications should be managed the same way and eliminating ones that are unnecessary is a great first step to having your device serve you and not the other way around.