Recommended Notification Settings.

There is an idea that the technology and devices we use in everyday life are neutral. This is not true.

Let’s take the iPhone. The primary purpose of the iPhone is for Apple to sell it, for you to use it for long periods of time, and to buy further upgrades in the future as well as various apps.

This is Apple’s goal, and this is Apple’s design.

When you install apps, there are then even more goals linked to the device, but this time to each of the companies that own the applications that you install.

The problem is that often the motivations and objectives of these companies are actually the opposite of what you would want for yourself. This is most obvious in the case of the social media companies such as Facebook or TikTok. Your attention is, quite literally, their advertising space. They need to ensure you spend as much time as possible inside their apps, consuming engaging content so they can gather more data about you and serve even better advertising — all the ensure that they can tweak your behavior.

But it’s not just social media companies. Any company that sells you a “free” service is almost certainly making money off of you in some way. It may be through ads, or it may be through selling your data, but there is no such thing as a free lunch.

The same goes for the devices we use. They are designed to keep us using them for as long as possible. This is why our phones are so addictive, and it’s also why we get notifications from apps even when we’re not using them.

Think about how you use your phone. Do you ever feel like you can’t put it down? Do you feel like you need to check it all the time, even when there’s nothing new? That’s because of design. The phone is designed to be addictive, and the apps are designed to keep us using them.

This is why it’s so important to be aware of the technology we use and the companies we support. If we want to take back control of our attention, we need to be intentional about the devices we use and the apps we install. We need to think about what our goals are, and how we can use technology to achieve them instead of letting technology dictate our behavior.

Some other apps, on the other hand, may well be aligned with your goals. Apps like RunKeeper or Waking Up come to mind, where they nudge you to exercise and meditate respectively. These are goals that you may actually want to be pushed onto you, and so you gladly accept some type of interference into your daily routine.

But even then, we need to be careful. We can’t just assume that because an app is trying to help us that it will always be doing so in our best interest. Even these apps are designed by for-profit companies, and so we need to consider how they make their money and whether their goals are truly aligned with our own.

The key way that applications installed on smartphones can change your behavior is by serving you content, and sending you push notifications. It is actually insane just how refined this can get. These companies hire data scientists to understand the optimum type and number and timing of push notifications to keep as many users coming back as often as possible.

This is a huge problem, because our attention is the most valuable thing we have. And when we give away our attention to things that don’t align with our goals and values, we are harming ourselves.

They make money when they are able to interrupt you and gather your attention. This is why it is important to take conscious decisions with regards to the notification settings on our phones — it can have a huge impact on the quality of our attention, and thus the quality of our lives.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best way to deal with notifications will vary from person to person. However, I take a relatively extreme approach, but it seems to work for me.

By default on my phone, all notifications are off for every application. For calls from numbers that are not in my contacts, those go straight to voicemail.

I have notifications for the following applications:

  • Waking Up — I have a daily message at 8 am each morning.
  • Google Calendar — for time-sensitive notifications such as my next meetings, I allow push notifications.
  • Stripe — My payment processor for Mäd and Blue.
  • Mercury — My business banking app for Mäd and Blue

For all notifications I have them batched twice a day, which is something that can be done on iPhone and I am sure on Android devices as well. I am twice a day summaries at 8 am and 6 pm

By default, I also hide all badges on the application icons, with the exception of my chat apps: WhatsApp, Telegram, and Teams chat for work. I don’t have badges for email, because I prefer to batch my email a few times a day vs constantly checking each new email that comes in.

This gives me a device that turns into a tool. I can use it to achieve my goals, instead of it using me to achieve its goals. I am in control, it does not control me. I use it to make my life better and more productive, instead of getting lost in rabbit holes.

Of course, this is just my personal approach, and what works for me may not work for you. But the key point is that we need to be intentional about the way we use our devices, and the apps we allow to control our attention. We need to take back control of our own lives.

We all have these supercomputers in our pockets, but we have given surprisingly little thought about our relationship with these supercomputers, and how much of a double-edged sword they can be.

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