Notifications Are of the Devil

November 28th, 2012

Do you catch yourself in a compulsive loop sometimes? For me? Right now it starts with email. Then I go to Twitter, then Facebook, then Instagram, then If things are particularly interesting I’ll go around the loop 2 or 3 times in a row.

This is what psychologist John Grohol calls FOMO Addiction. (Fear of missing out.)

Like the old-school Crackberry addict, we’re now all in the grip of “FOMO addiction” * — the fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting or better than what we’re currently doing.


Web developers depend on exploiting this phenomenon. Since most social media sites are fueled by ad revenue– in turn depending upon millions and millions of pageviews where they can display millions and millions of ads per day, engineers use lots of psychology to get you to add their web application to your loop. Each time you go from site-to-site on your addictive loop you see new ads on your Gmail, Facebook timeline, sponsored tweets, etc.

For the engineers, getting into your loop is like offering free crack to a crackhead unlimited, all day and all night.

They have you.

But they want more.

Notifications Supersede the Loop

Texting gave rise to a disturbing trend for these same engineers. While desktop users have continued, even increasing their addictions; smartphones delivered a brand new way to fuel the loop even more.

At the same they noticed that texting guaranteed an interruption of the loop. Receiving a text, unlike receiving a phone call, would cause a person to almost immediately type a response. Various studies show that something like 98% of text messages are read by the recipient within 15 minutes and the response rate for texting, particularly amongst teenagers– the most influential demographic for spending, is nearly 100%. (related source)

Compare that to an email marketing message, where 20% open rate and 5% response rate are considered excellent, and you can see why web engineers knew they needed to build their own loop interrupters to supersede your loop with their content.

That’s how the notification was born. If your phone beeps or buzzes in your pocket you are almost guaranteed to check it. Likewise, if something pops up on your screen or even if a number in your peripheral vision ticks up from 22 to 23, you will check it.

Your wife could be in labor. Your house could be on fire. You might be driving through white knuckling snow with your kids in the back seat. You might be having sex. If you get a notification the neurology of that moment is against you. You will check it.

Why? Dopamine. Recent studies show that the same neurotransmitter that fuels many other chemical addictions also is released when you get a notification from a text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, etc.

A notification causes you a tiny bit of pleasure… and the drive for that impulsive pleasure will augment your loop and interrupt whatever you are doing.

In my new book, A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media, we explore the this more and its impact on teenagers.

But, for now, let’s talk about what you need to do.

Notifications are of the Devil

When I say that notifications are of the devil I’m only kidding a little bit. If you think about it, web engineers are exploiting a very similar neurological response to many other life-endangering addictions.

Doing drugs gives you a big hit of “dope.” Meanwhile checking hundreds of notifications per day is lots and lots of tiny hits of “dope.” You decide if that’s the devils handiwork. I tend to think it is.

Notifications may be ruining your quality of life (and perhaps your safety).

So turn them off. All of them. Notifications on your phone, your laptop, your tablet, your email… turn them all off. (Here’s a Google search to get you started) You don’t need any of them.

Next, make it so your phone never vibrates. Think about it, if you are having lunch with a co-worker or are in a meeting, or are watching a movie. Do you really need to check that text message? Nope. And if you turn off all visual, audio, and vibrating notifications you can simply ignore all of that.

Web developers, in an attempt to get you to view the next ad, are driving you crazy. Literally, they are fueling an addiction that is stressing the relationships in your life simply so they can make more money.

So make the choice.

Reclaim your life.

Turn off all notifications.

Do it now.

P.S. Like this post? Want to be a better parent of a teenager in a social media infused world? Pre-order my book, A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media.

RELATED INFOGRAPHIC: Facebook Psychology: Is Addiction Affecting Our Minds?

A lifelong youth worker, Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel and principal at McLane Creative. This post was originally published on Adam's blog.

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