Do you really want to be a slave of something which is supposed to be a tool for you to use? Notifications on your phone distract you from what’s happening in front of you (which might be important, or personal, or possibly really boring and therefore a chance to think), and they feed an unhealthy desire to seek attention from others.
Distraction isn’t a modern disease, John Donne confessed in 1640: “I neglect God and his angels for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door.” And feeding off the attention of others isn’t new either. We’ve just got more technology that encourages both of them now, and that cannot possibly be a good thing.
More people are realising this, which is why I’ve got several good articles to recommend to convince you. Some friends of mine have got rid of their smartphones altogether in a commendable commitment to escaping from all of this. I like how smoothly my iPhone works, and its camera, and the convenience of internet access and GPS when I need it, so I didn’t go that far. I got rid of the Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Flipboard apps altogether, hid Instagram away in a folder (because I can’t use it elsewhere), and have tried to keep my phone in my pocket more often. I’ve kept Pocket* so I can read articles that I’ve saved elsewhere, and Simplenote to process my thoughts in writing. Sometimes I get phone calls or texts. Hopefully I'll pick up books more often. I'm still very distractible but I think my ability to focus on the tasks and people in front of me is slowly improving, and that whatever it is that gives us a tremor of minor elation when we're notified about someone online paying us attention is getting the beating it deserves.
Here’s who helped me:
- Matt Simmonds was the first person whose thoughts on this I read, as he got to work on removing habitual time-wasters from his life.
- Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is blunt: “Literally no one is going to die if you wait five freaking minutes to check your text messages and your Twitter replies.”
- Julian Baggini is concerned that the Apple Watch is the next stage in reducing our conception of ourselves to machines.
- Andy Crouch writes wisely, beautifully and at length about a full-on fast from screens. “I was more free to pay attention to the world I am called to love.”
* I've written a list of four helpful productivity apps that aren't distracting.