Managing the world in your pocket

Erin Kernohan-Berning

6/12/20244 min read

person holding black and brown globe ball while standing on grass land golden hour photography
person holding black and brown globe ball while standing on grass land golden hour photography

The world is loud, and many of us have a little device in our pocket that is constantly telling us what is going on in the world. Our mobile devices alert us to something happening – whether it’s a global crisis or someone remarking on their excellent lunch – with equal urgency, regardless of importance.

Pre-internet forms of communication weren’t nearly so constant. Receiving mail [AB1] may have been a twice daily occurrence in urban areas, and often a weekly occurrence in rural areas in the early 20th century. Newspapers were generally daily or weekly, with a handful having morning and evening editions. The television news, at one time, was largely a daily occurrence prior to the rise of the 24-hour news cycle typical of CNN and its peers. This stands in contrast to the potentially multiple times per hour that our smartphones can interrupt our day.

Knowing so much more about what goes on in our world is a good thing. It’s possible to see someone’s perspective from somewhere in the world that isn’t here, and we can learn more about places and situations that aren’t part of our everyday life. However, the immediacy and urgency that smartphones, news apps, and social media put on drawing our attention to absolutely everything, doesn’t give us the time or space to absorb what we are learning about. It makes us reactive, rather than reflective.

Entertainer Bo Burnam in his song “Welcome to the Internet” describes this fire-hose of information as “a little bit of everything all of the time.” The trick is learning how to turn that fire-hose down to a manageable level. The good news is, there are tools we can use to do this. The bad news is that it still takes a certain amount of effort – when something is monetized through our constant attention, it is hesitant to let that go.

You have the option on most devices to turn off any and all notifications, however that is likely not practical for everyone. Rather, you may want to turn notifications off or on for specific apps, which can usually be found in the device settings but sometimes also in the settings of the app itself. Depending on the app, you may have more granular control over what notifications you get, such as being able to mute specific accounts or specific notification types. Note that emergency notifications that are a part of the Alert Ready Emergency Alert System are not silenced by turning your off your device’s notifications.

Another feature that many devices have, particularly smart phones, is the ability to have a digest of notifications delivered at a specific time of day. You can usually specify which notifications are included in the digest, and which notifications should be delivered immediately. For instance, I have my social media notifications set to appear in a digest because I really don’t need to get those immediately – especially while I’m working or doing other things. But I have my weather app set to deliver notifications immediately because I want to know when stormy weather may be approaching.

If you find it hard to stop scrolling once you are prompted to open an app, you aren’t alone. Social media apps, in particular, are built to try and keep you engaged for as long as possible. They do this by providing a never-ending scroll of content that has been algorithmically determined to be of interest to you based on data gleaned from your previous use patterns and device location, among other things. There are, however, a few ways of circumventing this artificially infinite supply of content.

One way is to move away from the “for you” type content feed and only look at accounts you actually follow. The downside of this is that many apps, including Instagram and Meta’s Twitter-clone, Threads, as well as TikTok, revert to the algorithmic feed each session forcing you to actively choose your following feed. Social media platforms such as Bluesky and Mastodon let you remain on your following feed for multiple sessions, providing a natural end to the new content available to you each visit.

Screen time controls are another way to moderate how long you use certain apps. If you know you only have a half-hour to scroll before you can’t open the app for the rest of the day, you may find yourself using it more mindfully rather than just infinitely scrolling.

Taking these steps does require digging into your device’s settings a bit, so I’ve posted some how-to links for this on my website along with this article below. Hopefully some of these ideas help you turn “a little bit of everything all of the time” into something a bit more manageable.

Learn more

Sources on managing your notifications and screen time:

How to tame notifications on your Android. (The Verge) Last accessed 2024/06/11.

How to tame notifications on iOS. (The Verge) Last accessed 2024/06/11.

Control notifications on Android. (Google) Last accessed 2024/06/11.

Change notification settings on iPhone. (Apple) Last accessed 2024/06/11.

Can I turn off notifications for a specific app on Windows 11? (Microsoft) Last accessed 2024/06/11.

Digital wellbeing tools. (Google) Last accessed 2024/06/11.

Use Screen Time on our iPhone or iPad. (Apple) Last accessed 2024/06/11.

Schedule a notification summary. (Apple) Last accessed 2024/06/11.

Correction log

Important note: This isn't really a correction, but I wanted to emphasize this point. In Canada, where I am, the CRTC requires all service providers to deliver emergency alerts to compatible phones. So when you're viewing some of the how to articles coming from the U.S., keep in mind that instructions on how to silence emergency alerts may not be applicable to you.

Emergency Alerts and the National Public Alerting System. (CRTC) Last accessed 2024/06/11.