Why notifications are telling you what other people are doing

The rise of so-called "anti-notifications" may actually cause us to ignore our phones
Are you overwhelmed with notifications from your smartphone? It may be getting worse. (Pixabay)

Most of us who use smartphones are engaged in a daily struggle with the near-incessant dings, warbles and beeps coming from our pockets, as the device tries to maintain its vise-grip on our lives.

And you may have noticed two things: that you're getting even more notifications now, and, on top of that, that the notifications you're getting don't even have anything to do with you.

Those are what UX designer and writer Adrian Zumbrunnen calls "anti-notifications." These are alerts that tell you, for example, the activity of friends or followers on social media.
UX designer and writer Adrian Zumbrunnen (Twitter)

He wrote about anti-notifications in a recent essay.

"Now you get a notification when two friends that you barely know 'like' each other's avocado toast," Zumbrunnen said.

He said the idea behind anti-notifications may be to get you to engage with social media. Many people now have so many friends and followers that it's hard to keep up with everything.

So the platforms attempt to guess which interactions will be interesting to you, and let you know, he suggested.

However, the algorithms aren't always very accurate, and you end up with notifications about irrelevant information, he said.

All this may have the effect of making all notifications less useful - even for those that are relevant to users.

Notifications are useful when they offer something of meaning to the user, he added. "It's not just a random noisy message, but that is something that you can use right now."

The trouble with these newer sorts of notifications are that that create more noise than signal. And then people will stop trusting notifications altogether, he said. "And then we have a problem."

That increases the likelihood that people will miss notifications that are actually important to them.

One solution, Zumbrunnen suggested, is that apps and operating systems make it easier for people to turn off notifications for things they're not interested in.

"Once you allow this app to send you notifications it's very unlikely that you're actually going to change it because it's just too cumbersome."