I still can’t hear “You’ve Got Mail!” without picturing Tom Hanks sitting on his bed giddily IMing away with the lovely Meg Ryan (it’s not my fault she’s lovely!). That was 13 years ago. Since then, America Online (the now obsolete service they used to chat) has gone the way of the Pet Rock, fax machines, yellow pages, roller blades, and dinosaurs. For those who once had AOL accounts, you’ll remember the excitement and emotion elicited by the digitized voice proclaiming: “You’ve got mail!”. While I will not miss the exorbitant prices tied to wickedly slow AOL dial-up access or their clunky system-halting interface, I will give them credit for being at the cutting edge of what I’ll call “notification sedation”.

As notifications become the norm,  budding research suggests that receiving a text, voice mail, email, or Facebook notification releases chemicals in your brain that leave you feeling euphoric [i]. I’m almost certain software companies know this, and it’s probably why you do (or don’t) own a Smartphone complete with data package.  It isn’t surprising and I have to say, I love me some euphoric notifications! Since I entered the Smart Phone market by inheriting my brother’s used iPhone, and then upgraded (and upgraded…) I can be found staring into my phone like I’m waiting for an answer from the Magic Eight Ball (and I might be!).  A common scene in public places  (present company included) is hoards of people, surrounded by hoards of other people, that are all looking to see what’s happening with the hoards of people in their digital worlds (recently, I watched a mom, toting her child, and staring into her phone as she led them into the street oblivious to the traffic).

My calendar keeps me on schedule (including when to use the bathroom),  email and texts keep me connected to my peeps, my Craigslist and Ebay notifiers alert me when that which I crave is posted at rock bottom prices and my Facebook keeps me up to date on all the stuff I never knew I needed to know (and probably still don’t). Yet, Smartphones aren’t the only culprit. My laptop chirps away with many of the same announcements plus the added benefit of chat windows, work-interrupting work email and calendar notifications popping off in chorus with my phone. I’m connected. Donald Trump connected.

Day 2 of our experiment I decided I needed to do away with the notifications. My phone, that three months ago I was still doting on, had grabbed my life by the testicles. There I was, anticipating my next notification, my next fix of euphoria which kept me only semi-focused  on the conversation or the task at hand. “Could you hold on a sec? I think I’ve got a message….

okay, I’m back. Now what was I saying?”

In retrospect, I notice there had been fewer moments of complete silence.  I just didn’t leave enough space in my day for other thoughts. I got a lot of notifications. I was always doing something, and when I wasn’t I’d occupy those moments with a quick dip in my digital world. Two days ago, in the spirit of simpler living, I chose to take “drastic” measures. Calendar notifications? Off. Email? Off. Facebook? Well, you get the idea.

It has been a quiet couple of days, almost too quiet. (don’t people use phones for their original intent anymore?) I’m adapting while trying to remember what silence is like and how to interact with it. My wife is delighted to have me slightly more present in our day to day, my daughter is happy as a clam (she probably is thinking it’s a huge improvement but just hasn’t quite found the words to express herself), and my thought percolator is rockin’ full blast.


[i] If I had time to look it up you would find lots of interesting studies about euphoric notification syndrome here. Google it, I promise its out there.

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