When notifications are like empty calories
Recently, I realised something. Although I receive at least one Facebook notification every hour or so, almost all of them were irrelevant to me.
Let’s look at what Facebook has notified me about in the past few hours:
- Someone’s birthday (kind of useful, I suppose)
- That person’s birthday charitable cause (couldn’t that be part of the first notification?)
- Someone has posted in a group I’m a member of (…so?)
- Someone else has posted in another group I’m a member of (yeah, so?!)
- Someone mentioned me in a comment (finally, something relevant!)
- Someone else commented on something I previously commented on (hmm, almost useful but probably not much if they’re not replying to me)
As you can see, almost all of that is junk. I realise that this is mostly because I don’t use the Facebook app much, and the company is trying to juice as much engagement out of me as possible, but they’ve led me to start ignoring Facebook notifications. I impulsively scrub them from my phone’s screen without reading them.
Yes, I could turn them off entirely or fine-tune them, but a few are actually useful, and even if I turn off the popups on the phone, the notifications will still be there when I open the app regardless – lingering, marked unread.
I’m not the only one to comment on this recently
. And as The Verge’s Casey Newton notes
, such ‘thirst’ from Facebook (other apps like Twitter and Instagram are similarly guilty if you don’t use them much) just makes them seem more spammy and thus less appealing.
Boosting engagement through clever push notifications was once seen as the smart way to operate a social app, especially if you have investors keeping a close eye on your usage stats. But a tap on a 'your friend’s dog just liked a photo of their uncle’s brother’s new television’ alert is the engagement equivalent of empty calories – entirely bereft of nutrition.
Big tech companies talk a lot about encouraging 'time well spent’ these days. Limiting the notifications they send to things that are genuinely useful and of value to me would certainly help me spend my time well – even if that meant using their apps a lot less.