How do phone notifications impact us?


While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.


What are the impacts of notifications?


by: Bridget Haina

When I sit down to eat dinner with my family or to have coffee with a colleague I always place my phone face down on the table. I do this because I know if I don’t every push notification will pull me out of the present face-to-face interaction I am having, and push me into the digital world, taking away from the real-time human connectivity. 

Notifications have become a part of our everyday lives. We get notified when someone messages us, when a package has shipped, when a friend likes our post or when our groceries are ready to pick up. Notifications of new shows that we “must” see!, new goods we “may want” to purchase, services we “need” to subscribe to or news that might be of interest to us and the list can go on. Maybe even infinitely… 

Notifications can be helpful, like the ones that tell me I need to leave my house in order to make it to my next meeting on time, but they can also be distracting and detrimental to our ability to focus on the present. The number counter on my email app is anxiety inducing, knowing with each numerical increase there is more work to be done. My Instagram or Facebook notification counters, which never get beyond 10 and create more of a bubbling excitement. Granted, attending to an Instagram notification takes a fraction of the time it would take to answer my average email but there is a distinction between how I physically and mentally react to the two different types of notifications. Knowing that email notifications mean more work and social notifications typically provide affirmation, praise, joy or a whole slew of other positive responses it makes sense my brain would react differently to the two.

That is not to say that I do not have emails that bring me joy and social notifications that are deeply negative but the notification of an email coming in always comes with a moment of apprehension where when I see a “ping” on one of my socials it is typically accompanied by a moment of anticipation.

I do my best to be conscious of the fact that how I engage with notifications is a habit that has been formed intentionally by the device and app design with the goal to pull me back into the digital landscape, ultimately to expose me to more ads, therefore increasing my likelihood of consumption.

I know this and think about it a lot, but it still pulls me in. 

I will automatically open and clear the notifications in certain apps, jumping in and out in seconds to see who says what or liked what that I have posted throughout the day. This jumping is usually done in between moments – when I finished a task, walking to my car, waiting in line, etc. I pull out my phone and I am pulled into a digital space.

Maybe we should call them pull notifications instead of push… (or maybe they were called push notifications because they are pushy- annoying and pressure you to deal tight then and there)

But I am being pushed away from something every time I pick up my phone.

What could I be doing in these moments if I didn’t have my phone and a notification to check (to clear?)? I am a naturally extroverted person so I know I would talk to more people, try and connect with those around me. I crave the connections with others and am working on reclaiming my in between moments to foster more random conversations.

These in between moments are not only times where I could be connecting more with others but also moments I could be using for inner reflection. The constant consumption of information throughout the day leaves our brain little time to process all that it has consumed. This can result in feeling more tired, having headaches, more restless sleep and other symptoms as our brains struggle to catch up to processing the daily information load. These in between moments could also be space I could be using to think, problem solve, create, be curious and question.

Although my brain can handle all the data I throw at it at the end of each day I can’t help but wonder if I needed it all. 

actions to take

Reflect upon how different types of notifications impact you.

Check out and adjust your notification settings.

Share your experience with us!
Connect with an AC member for a one on one chat. 

questions to consider

How quickly do you respond to notifications?

How often do you check your notifications?

When/where do you check them?

What else could you be doing besides checking your notifications?


Phantom Phone Vibrations: So Common They’ve Changed Our Brains?

How to Save Yourself From Notification Overload | WIRED

It’s time to turn off some notifications

Google’s Matías Duarte on the History of Smartphone Notifications | WIRED

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