Saying no to notifications

iOS 4.3 features: Ping getting pushy with notifications

I've turned off almost all notifications on my iPhone. No email sound or vibration, no Twitter popups, nothing from Facebook -- even if it worked, nothing from Ping -- if anyone used it, no Game Center trumpets, no nothing. Almost. I do leave on SMS and Phone (because I need working telephony), and Calendar and Alarm still get to alert me (because I need to stay employed). That's it.

But it used to be the opposite.

When MobileMe and ActiveSync first came to iOS 2 (then iPhone OS 2.0) I put those suckers on full blast. They could beep and buzz every few seconds as far as I was concerned. When Apple finally launched Push Notifications and Boxcar created one of the first Twitter alert systems, I couldn't wait to see all the mentions and DMs pop up. Likewise with Beejive when they added Push. Eventually I had a full complement of task managers, social networks, IM clients, reminders, texts, mail, and I can't even remember what else going off seemingly all the time. (Yes, that included in my pocket when I was trying to have conversations, and it did produce all manner of strange looks, especially from people far more sane than I.)

Since iOS still lacks mode settings (i.e. home vs. work, day vs. night) and it was far too cumbersome to manually turn off notifications at night, I'd suffer through them in my sleep as well. I'd just flip the ringer switch to silent and leave my iPhone rattling on my side table all night. (Yeah, I was single at the time -- thanks!) I wondered if it reduced my sleep efficiency but hey, it was cool tech.

Then something started to happen. I started to ignore them. Turns out being notified all the time is the same as being notified never. If everything is important, nothing is. Then it changed again and rather than notification it became distraction. Focus is often key to execution and having something whizz and whine at random yet frequent intervals throughout the day started shredding my focus and harming my ability to execute. (Especially push spam -- nothing like reaching for the phone and seeing a bunch of junk emails and bogus @mentions to really drive home the value of notifications.)

It reminded me of that episode of the X-Files where all the devils are congregating to swap stories about how they were driving humans to insanity and, after several of them had gone, the last one admitted he didn't do much of anything -- humans were all too willing to drive themselves crazy. The devil's example was the snooze button on the alarm clock -- a device fiendishly designed to destroy our only naturally peaceful state... and then repeat that destruction over and over again in 5-10 minute intervals. Our own implementations of technology were enough to make anyone jump out a window.

Eventually a few friends told me to cut out the annoying racket and I did. I turned it all off. Well, almost all of it as I described above. Now my iPhone sits peacefully and quietly 95% of the time. (And if Apple provided some sort of night time mode, where meeting invitations from Europe wouldn't fire up at 4am it would be 98% of the time.)

I check email whenever I want to check email anyway. I check Twitter whenever I want to check Twitter. I check Facebook whenever... I really, really have to. I don't need people to challenge me to games I'm not playing or alert me to music I'm not listening to. I'm fine.

Anyone else just said no to notifications? Anyone thinking about it? Let me know. I'm interested how you're using push and how, if at all, it keeps you informed or just keeps you interrupted.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter,, Google+.

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There are 65 comments. Add yours.

Jonathan Seals says:

Depends on what mood I'm in.

fluffwitt says:

I just turn on airplane mode at night & it stops everything making an alert. No one calls at night so the phone dosn't matter.

TK says:

I only have phone ring, sms, AIM and calender notifications. I don't need a sound when I get a Facebook message and a sound when I get an email about that Facebook message.

jstrickland says:

I completely agree. I have minimal notifications on. Just like you, I came to the point I was just ignoring all of them anyway.

Steven says:

Funny, I was notified about this post. Boxcar, on during day, off at night. Twitter, fb, emails. Keep em coming

jbrandonf says:

When you get a proper notification system this won't be an issue. You can address important updates when needed and leave the other crap for when you feel like it. Ive had iOS, webos, wp7 and now android and by far the best notification system was webos.

ap says:

LockInfo and Popup Blocker saved the day for me. No sound alerts except for the most important like IM and Boxcar. With popup blocker, one can set the phone to wake up on new notification and and with LockInfo all the alerts are presented in a list.

Chris says:

One reason why the notification on iOs SUCKS.

Carioca32 says:

Just SMS for me, and that's annoying enough.

trtmazda3 says:

I just have all of my homescreen badges turned off, because seeing little red circle numbers all over the place on my otherwise neat and trim homescreen bothers me. Echofon and Facebook are allowed to pop up and alert me to something, but I usually just lock the screen and keep in mind to check whatever that was when I get around to feeling like it. :)
I came from a BlackBerry, and the iPhone's notification system still works better for me than RIM's OS did.

John says:

I use text and phone. And for night time I turn my iPhone off. I know it probably sounds crazy but I power it down every night. The amazing thing is that it turns right back on in the morning.

duncanator says:

Yeah, same here. I turn it off each night because there is no reason to have it on when I am sleeping. I also don't use notifications either because I don't need to be bothered. I'll check my phone for updates when I want.

webvex says:

Or you could do like my mother: only turn your cell phone on when you want to make a call and don't setup your voice mailbox. That really cuts down on the interruptions. It's amazing how many older people do that.

mikey says:

I use SMS, Facebook, Twitter, CNN, and Breaking News. Those matter to me.

JJ says:

I'm wondering how much longer your battery lasts now?

Claudio says:

All I have is email, SMS and phone alerts, everything else I check, like you said, when I want to. It helps in so many different ways and doesnt make your life all about your phone... Oh and it improved my battery life!

Chip_TN says:

I'm still in that "if it pushes, bring it on" mindset... but I do find myself rolling my eyes and saying "Ugh!" at most of them. I guess I should re-visit my situation as well. My SMS and Twitter is all I really care about anyway.

sangs says:

Amen. I have text, e-mail and ringer on - that's it. You ever stand in a line near one of these tools whose phone is beeping, blurting, boinking every 10 seconds? And it's in their pocket, so they're not even checking it?! What's the friggin point?

allan jensen says:

Well written. I say no just as you do, save for a couple of financial and news apps. I appreciate half of the popups and ignore the rest quite comfortaly but it's also only max 6-8 a day and it would be better if it was down to 1 or so of really momentous news.

robotphood says:

What about sbschedules for profiles? Control about everything you need on/off with with easy accessible toggles as well as by time. Add lockinfo, notified, and bitesms and I rarely have to leave the lockscreen. If I had to love with badges and popups I'd probably turn off all my notifications too.

Bkbone says:

Some time ago I would think you are completely crazy. Today when I was reading your post I realized that you are completely right. There are nothing so important which we should receive an alert on any time neither during the night.
I'll urn off my notifications right now. Thanks for open my eyes !

deviladv says:

I came to this realization a while ago. While the notification system isn't as great as Androids, the iPhone . We just have to go into push notifications and turn stuff off!!! I generally allow badges. I turn off alerts for everything, and turn off sounds for most everything except what I think is important. Then I simply make sure all the apps that I should get an alert on are on the main page of my phone.
It's easy to let yourself get overwhelmed with alerts by just hitting okay to that dialog, and I'm sure Apple doesn't like that (here's to hoping it's dealt with in OS 5) but the tools are available to anyone to control these alerts better.

Shanice says:

I use Badges for everything except text and phone. And nothing at all for iPhone

DT says:

Everything is off on mine except SMS and Calendar (which I barely use anyways). I don't even have the ringer on. I absolutely hate notifications and pop up messages.

seb_or_sam says:

I agree completely. I only like to be notified about the essentials- which are exactly what you outlined. Otherwise, they're interruptions, not notifications- I don't need more of those.
Also, I see in the picture that Chad bought a Social Distortion song- nice! He's got good taste!

webvex says:

On a similar note, how about turning that volume down too and give the rest of us a break? All the silly noises phones make are bad enough without being set to full volume. Show some consideration for other people.

Pasha says:

From my first iPhone, i used only phone and text notifications. Number badges are enough on email and Facebook for me. Dont even dare to get distracted by Twitter. We are in the age of information overload, trying to manage all of this and stay productive.
PS at night i sometimes turn off vibrate mode from SBSettings too, if i want to keep iphone close but SLEEP though :)

MooPenguin32 says:

I have many notifications turned on, but they don't go off all the time. In fact, they rarely go off. I'm not as popular as you, Rene.

Shrike says:

Join the club. Notifications are overrated.
There definitely needs to be a balance. Having too many notifications, no matter how good the UI design is, typically means you ignore most of them. Same thing with email, texts, voicemail, etc. We as humans are bandwidth limited with how much input we can take, and of course, different people have different capability/limits.
If Apple improves notifications, I hope they are able to develop a system smart enough to notify you of the important things. Everything else is noise. The "smart" part is kind of impossible though.

unchew says:

I am very selective with my push notifications and only have awesome note and a couple of other apps but not all the options only dm's or facebook messages and i use boxcar for a sleep time that turns them all off during certain times. says:

I've never Ok'd an app's notification. I've de-activated my Facebook account.
I have my phone on silent generally, but really like push email, text and the odd phone call even! I'm only a light user compared to most tho.
I never had time for badges and shizzle.

Tom B says:

Couldn't agree more!
I did this way back in the days of the 3G, for one, those notifications are completely unmanageable when multiple come in at the same time, and for another, it's a massive battery drain. It affects sleep, personal conversations, phone calls, concentration, to have these on all the time. When I got my iPhone 4 I tried using them, got tired of the constant barrage of junk in less than 24 hours. I had problems sleeping through the buzzing, etc. now i check email when i have the time, etc, just like you.

Loc0 says:

Just need my text alerts.

mrsFAB says:

I need my alerts. But I must admit that the ESPN one is about to be disabled. So annoying.

mark419ny says:

i dont have any app notifications on at all. come to think of it i dont have facebook either nor do i want it. talk about the biggest waste of time and farce in the world. really do i need to post pictures of what i do for whoever to see and if your my friend you know what ive been doing anyway and there is a reason you didnt talk to the person who is now trying to talk to you in 10 years. anyway without turning notifications off completely can you turn off sms and or phone notifications? i dont think you can.

Andy says:

I only leave the badges on. It doesn't buzz or whirr or pop-up then. It only puts the numbers up when I have new things, and I can check them at my leisure.

mark419ny says:

ive been searching you cant stop sms email or phone notifications. you can kill the sound but thats it.

Lars says:

Good post - I agree, virtually all of my notifications are off as well. Good riddance.

Arist says:

Just switched from Blackberry to iPhone and as a corporate user, notifications are missed greatly on the iOS platform. Apple should address and provide options to users if they want to strengthen their position in enterprise.
If you don't want to use them, turn them off. But give users the choice instead of just omitting them entirely.

EnglishRich says:

Why do I need to know if someone posts on FB or twitter real time? I'll see it when I go on, at my convenience! Sure, calendar, text and email, but that's it - the rest can go jump! I have a life! We all do, so go out and live them..... Phones are meant to improve our lives, not rule them.....

Adam says:

Most of the time, I don't log on to Twitter or Facebook if I don't get a notification. That's why I like it - if no one has commented my posts or posted something on my wall, I don't have to waste my time checking it.

dtothep says:

That was Millennium, not X-Files. It's called "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me". It's my favorite episode.

Orion2021 says:

I had push on for only a week before I turned them off once more. I made up all these great U2 ring tones and never use them. My phone is on permanent silent mode. It only buzzes for phone calls and text messages. Everything else I check when I feel like it.

Adam says:

Currently, I've enabled notifications from Facebook, Twitter, (a tv guide app) and CNN and disabled everything else. FreeAppADay, Fox News and CBSNews used to drive me crazy until I turned them off ("Breaking News: Obama sneezed"). I'm also trying out some jailbreak notification implementaions, mainly LockInfo, Notified, OpenNotifier and Mobile Notifier; haven't decided which one I want to stick with yet.

Adam says:

I forgot iTV Shows and 2Do. I love those two.

Tom says:

My iPhone rings when someone is calling. If the mute switch is activated it doesn't. Nothing more, nothing less, and no vibrating.

Chris Dodds says:

yup. other'n texts and phone calls, most of the other notifications drive me nuts. i am disciplined enough to turn off vibrate when silent at night and turn it back on the next morning. i HATE when my phone goes berzerk in the middle of the night to wake me when it shouldn't be.

impaler says:

Wow, great article. Rene addressed a real concern, and after reading all the replies, there are alot of useful viewpoints that have helped me take a hard look at all this online connectivity we seem to be slaves to. Facebook really is so stupid. There are maybe five of the 100 or so friends on there I actually know and talk to--and they already know what's up in my life. I had to pose the question--what do I want to know about? Email? Yes, but push isn't necessary--I can think of maybe a handful of times I needed an e-mail...and when that happened, I was hitting I've always used IMAP for my Gmail, and checked every 15 min. Phone calls? Yep. SMS/MMS? Yep. Breaking hot news? Yeah, I'm a news junkie. I think I'll turn off the ESPN thing for my teams--I mean, I'm not a sports freak. And yeah, when I'm on a call with someone and I get that double-ring in my ear, it can stop me mid-sentence, until I get rid of it. I'm going to turn alot of junk off. I like the other commenter's viewpoint on badges--they're certainly less intrusive, but they cause stress--as in, OH NO, I have 2000 unread feeds in Reeder! I feel like it's a task I have to complete to keep it all manageable. No I don't. As much as I love reading TiPb, I always do it at my leisure, not as a "must read now" homework assignment. Twitter is not critical either. Good stuff.

Ivan Williams says:

I have to agree! With the day and age that we're in, we already have enough things grasping for our attention, to have a mobile device virtually demanding it, well, that's just enough...
All notifications off, except email and text messages. But, I really, really wish I could turn off popup notifications for text. Most annoying (yes, I have preview off)...

M7mdAA says:

I used to be just like Rene, notifications for everything, pop ups and all that but I also turned off everything except SMS, Reminders and calls :)

Quick5pnt0 says:

Personally I never understood how anyone could have twitter or Facebook messages/updates pushed to them. It would drive me insane because I'd be getting an update every few minutes. With that said I do keep my im and news alerts on.

Adam says:

Well, everyone's not as popular as you ;)

adu says:

I turned off sound & vibration on mail
I keep a small list of friends on twitter and fb, I block all games, causes or other types of invites via fb, so notifications don't bother me mutch
I switch on silent mode (no vibrations) in the office and keep the iPhone in my visual range (under my monitor), so I see when somebody calls me, receive SMS or other notifications
I switch to Fly mode over the night
The only problem: I forget sometimes to switch back from silent mode when I leave the office
I am happy with it, I need no "profiles" (day, night, office, disco, meeting etc. etc. etc.)

Hoffa says:

Only notifications I have on is google voice, tv guide, and fetch email

Luke says:

I would guess I have about 1/3 of the notifications on for my Android which is on me at all times. My iPod touch has all notifications on since it's mainly used for games and I like to know when it's my turn, and I only pay attention to it when I want to.

Kenji O. says:

Cool read, Rene. I'm totally with you. It becomes overloaded and overwhelming. I should follow your lead into the world w/o notification. I bet it would be almost zen like. ;)

DBox says:

I've said no to notifications since it's inception.

Don Lewis says:
I use both Android and iPhone (unbiased). I have all notifications turned off on iPhone except my exchange email.

JD says:

I just put my phone into airplane mode at night. Saves battery and no calls or alerts waking me up. Not that I have that many; only SMS, email, calendar, 2Do and Twitter. FB notifications are sent by email from the web app instead.

OmariJames says:

Some programs like Echofon have a time window you can set. For example. You'll only get alerts from 10am to 10PM if you choose. Before they added that I would go crazy. Otherwise I just either turn my phone off or leave it face down in silent mode.
I really hope iOS5 brings better notification system. It's been the only thing they've never changed. I always suggested they use the top status bar to double in function. It can be 2x it's size and won't change the size of the apps on the spring board.
Maybe the larger screen will involve a new solution to notifications

Thom says:

I didn't even think of this until I read this. I have turned all of mine off except my real important ones. I'm going to see how it works out. It is irritating to get notified all the time and I just never thought about it. Thanks for the advice.

Dee Avila says:

I used to be the same way had every bell on my phones...but for some time now I have all notifications off and only ringer on...I now have people on my spare time not taking up my who,e day...

Gerald Hindmarsh says:

It is a paper covered button! The process is the same as covering a button with a kit, except that I lined the back of the paper with clear tape to make it more fabric-like. Aside from having to press on the button backing a little harder, it was no more difficult than following the instructions on the back of the button-kit package!