Ping Lord: How I Turned Off My Phone Notifications and Got My Life Back | Georgina Lawton
It officially started during that weird and mystical time now known as the first lockdown, when negative news notifications were at an all-time high and the only way to have a drink with your friends was through the Houseparty app, which would be inexplicably crushed by strangers.
I was inundated with infection statistics, invitations to digital book clubs, viral memes no one else would have found amusing, and professional emails reporting just about everything. I wanted a switch for the world – but I just turned off my notifications.
But if I think back even further (hard: did life exist before the C-word?), this idea first sprouted in 2019, when an ex-boyfriend told me he was living without notifications. phone calls for years. I was impressed. Not least because our first digital dating consisted of quick, fast text and voice notes. “So how did you follow our messages?” I remember asking. “I just check the things that are important to me,” he said. “I like your texts.”
There are many reasons to turn off your notifications: better concentration, being more present, sleeping better, feeling in control of your life. When people who are still at the mercy of pings, ringtones and push notifications ask me how it all works, I paraphrase my ex: “You just check your phone as and when you need to.” My friends look horrified. But in this age of breaking news, keeping them around seems like self-flagellation. Getting freaked out by another depressing political update as it unfolds, or the news that your ex has had a baby, is like having an extra voice in your ear saying, “You don’t worth nothing, nobody loves you – and you are doomed! I actually like to schedule some time for self-loathing around 7 p.m. on Sundays instead of having it imposed on me ad hoc by my phone, thank you very much.
If you’re too scared to turn everything off from your phone’s main settings, you can try time-limiting apps on certain apps, or just turn off notifications individually and relax gently. This can be done in stages. You can try your big social media first: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, et al. Chances are you don’t actually miss the feeling of emptiness that comes from browsing other people’s lives and hearing bad news 24/7.
Then, if you’re feeling braver, opt for your email notifications. Friends who work as CEOs, editors, and lawyers tell me they couldn’t do that for fear of missing an important message and jeopardizing their entire careers. “I could be considered negligent and get fired,” the attorney said, before admitting that his work phone never goes off and he receives notifications on his home and work phones. But are we ever paid enough to be on call 24/7? (Actually, the lawyer probably is). Surely setting aside time in your day to respond to work messages is more effective than frantically picking up your phone every time it goes off and distracting you from other pressing tasks?
WhatsApp seems to be the one most people can’t let go of. Disabling notifications there for me involved both pushed and read ones. I still remember Googling “how to read a WhatsApp message without people knowing”, which involved putting my phone on airplane mode and then opening the message, to make sure the blue checkmarks ( indicating that a message has been read) do not appear. But not more!
My mom always has that panicky sense of duty to respond to every text immediately. “They saw that I saw it now!” she says. I tell her to turn off read receipts like I have now, but she refuses. She also always has all of her phone alerts at full volume, which is a very particular form of notification obsession favored only by the over-50s.
WhatsApp is also fun because once you turn off your read notifications it means you’re freed from the tyranny of seeing if your message has been read by others, but they might still worry about whether they’ve read yours. “Sorry, saw your stuff and didn’t reply,” a friend recently told me. Don’t apologize, I said, I turned off all read notifications. The chains are off for both of us now. Finally, we can dance.
Georgina Lawton is the author of Raceless: In Search of Family, Identity, and the Truth About Where I Belong