I walked into the locker room after a hard game of squash. I was tired and ready to shower and move on with my day when I heard an agitated voice. I turned toward the TV and saw the newscaster telling me about a routine political story that they had deemed “Breaking News.” Even though I could tell that a major catastrophe was not being reported, the tone of his voice had already done its job on my nervous system. I felt the stress.

This is the same stress that I feel when I hear that piercing ding that comes when someone around me gets a notification on their phone. On a recent trip with friends, I woke up in the middle of the night to a loud ding. A few minutes later another ding rang from the bed on the other side of the room. Over a period of about 30 minutes, my roommate’s phone dinged about a dozen times, never rousing him, but setting me on edge waiting for the next high-pitched ping. Finally, I called his name out loudly. He didn’t budge. After four shouts, ready to throw a pillow at him, he finally roused, apologized, and turned off his ringer. Needless to say, my sleep-deprived golf game the next day was far from sharp.

Several years ago, during the last national election, I made the choice to no longer watch any news. Not only was every station obviously biased, the tone of the news, regardless of the topic, resonated with melodrama and shouting, which created persistent stress. I stay informed by carefully curating news articles to keep me apprised at a level with which I am comfortable. 

Along the same line, I have turned off all notifications on my phone except for texts (I don’t get many texts each day). These “alarms” are intentionally designed to grab our attention as often and as intensely as possible. They gain nothing by being subtle or reasonable. 

Just like bedside alarms jar us out of peaceful sleep, these intrusions try to convince us that we cannot afford to be calm and relaxed.They build angst and then pile on more angst. One day we may learn how damaging these interruptions really are.

I want to encourage you to fight back against these unwelcome, toxic intruders. Boycott the overdramatic, biased, divisive television and online news. Turn off the thousands of app vendors dinging you with unimportant notifications every minute of the day. Live life on your terms. Don’t allow external forces to tell you how you should feel and when you should pay attention.Declare your independence.

I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want a little more peace in their lives. A simple step in that direction is to control the way we get our information and to reduce the notifications coming through our phones. It may seem radical, but in a matter of days, the positive effect will be noticeable. I don’t feel any less informed and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on any important notifications. If you are still doubtful, do an experiment for one week and then reevaluate. If you think your life was better before the change, the TV is always there to turn on and notifications are always available. Instead of being afraid of missing out of some critical piece of information, we should be afraid of missing out on the peace and calm available to us with a simple change.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Molly says:

    Enjoyed this Tommy. I just spent the morning unsubscribing to so many emails that have made their way into my mail without my invitation! Certainly they are Intruders, and I find I don’t want to start my day checking email when it feels like a chore. Wishing you a more peaceful day!

  • zach fauver says:

    Thanks for this Tommy. I think you’re right that their is a much higher cost to the constant interruption than we even know at this point. A cost to our ability to think and reflect deeply, and relate in meaningful ways to those we love are among them.