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Culture

My life in smartphone notification hell

Technically Incorrect: Is there any way out of all the alerts your phone delivers, seemingly by the second? There may not be.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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It could be something important. It could be. a562178/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

My friend Marc has 17,435. At least he does today.

By tomorrow, it'll be more.

"How can you live with that number staring at you all the time?" I ask him.

He shrugs. Marc is a man of very few words. Perhaps that's why he allows more than 17,000 Gmails to remain unread.

What's disturbing, though, is that he can look at his iPhone screen and not be bothered by the number. He lets that red number glow and is able to let it go.

A longer look at his screen shows other apps that have been desperately trying to attract his attention without success. LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Tinder, you name it. They all have apparently urgent things for him to attend to.

This man has more red numbers than Sears.

The odd thing is that Marc has no patience at golf. If you play with him, the golf club can turn into a pickax with just one errant swing.

Yet all those notifications don't bother him at all. He has found a way.

I can't do this. I live in notification hell.

I see my phone screen being adorned with a number -- which is sometimes accompanied by a buzzing notification sound -- and I have to address it.

Is it a message from the president to join his witty scriptwriting team? No, it's a message from my local supermarket that they have 15 percent off a ghastly Rioja that likely comes from Fresno.

I know I'm supposed to have a grip on these things. I know that I shouldn't pay attention, that I should check when I'm in the mood. But I can't leave it that long. My moods are capricious things.

I should have set all my notifications to "leave me the hell alone." Yet with some apps I've forgotten, some apps just don't listen and some apps might, just might, bring me something urgent.

I know that one or two clever tech people are trying to ease my problem.

There's a thing called Snowball, for example, that sucks all your notifications and alerts into one place. But I first have to set that all up. And there'll still be something popping up on my screen to tell me that I have a message. Any message. Every message.

I know that Google very much wants to know all about me, so that it can decide who I really am and what I should look at. But how much must I give away for even a nanosecond of peace?

The truth is that I can't see my notification hell ending.

There will always be alerts and notifications. There will always be some app, some entity, some person demanding that I attend to something now. And they mean now.

The red numbers will keep appearing and my red hell will keep on burning. I'm not a neat-freak, but I like a clean screen. It's the same pleasure as when you make a to-do list and suddenly everything's crossed off. It makes you believe you can finally rest. But with phones, you never can.

I am Pavlov's phone pooch. Each notification is like the ringing of a bell that, I hope, portends edification. It so rarely does.

I must go.

My phone tells me that I have 14 e-mails to read and two apps that need an update. The AP wants me to know that it's deciphered President Obama's chemistry with Congress. Twitter shrieks that someone has retweeted my joke about the Barcelona-Atletico Madrid game and the BBC wants something too. I think it's to tell me that the Croatian presidential election is very close.

My Google calendar is reminding me that I have dinner with a Serbian and LinkedIn insists that I pay attention because someone I don't know has just published a new post on a subject that doesn't interest me.

Don't you understand? One of these things could have been important. It could have been.