With coronavirus cases recently rising in the UK, every day hundreds of thousands of users of the government’s covid app were pinged and told to self-isolate. The app mashes up covid test results and location information to determine who has been near an infected person for 15 minutes or more. The number of pings being sent every day was so large that the talk in the UK press was of a “ping-demic”, with worrying implications for businesses and public services as more and more staff members were off work post-ping.
This deep in the pandemic, we’re wearily aware of the things that we can do to reduce the risk of infection. More social distancing, for example, means less risk of the dreaded ping. My concern here though isn’t for your physical health. I’m looking out, as usual, for your mental health, for your ability to be both productive and stress-free.
My suspicion is that you may be enduring your own personal ping-demic. And like taking anti-covid precautions, I expect there are things you could be doing in the face of a ping-demic to reduce the impact on your life.
The pings I’m talking about are those that vie for your attention on the screens of your various devices. Received a new WhatsApp message? The app’s icon lets you know by sporting a red dot. New text message? That icon sprouts the red dot. New Teams post? The icon morphs to let you know. New Email arrives? Not only does the app icon on your mobile device let you know, but you get a desktop notification on your laptop for good measure.
How many such pings are you getting? Is it fair to say that the pings are coming more quickly than you are responding to them?
Welcome to your ping-demic.
So, what’s to be done? What would be the equivalent of social distancing to help you deal with your ping-demic?
Have a cold, hard look at the pings you’re allowing yourself to receive. Unlike the dreaded covid ping, you have control of which app notifications you see. Most mobile apps turn on notifications by default when installed, but you can choose to turn them off, app by app, in your device’s settings. Many of us are so used to seeing a screen full of app icons with little red dots that we’ve gone numb to them.
In my experience, a little ruthlessness can be helpful here. It occurred to me many years ago that seeing the app’s indication of the unread email count was not helpful. Email arrives for me regularly, so I’ve pretty much always got unread emails waiting in my inbox. With that in mind, I decided that I could turn off the notification, as it wasn’t adding to my knowledge or helping me to make better decisions about what to focus on. At first it was strange not to see the number of unread emails indicated on the app’s icon, but over time I came to realize that the notification was more distraction and less helpful information.
Ask yourself, app by app, whether it’s helpful for you to be getting notifications from it.
The same goes for the notifications you’re getting on your laptop or computer. I’m not saying by the way that you should turn off notifications for all your apps. I’ve found quite often that when I install a new app it can be quite helpful to allow it to display notifications while I get to know it. Later I can decide which pings, if any, I want it to send me.
Ultimately you should set up your reminders so that they serve you best. What things do you want to be pinged about? Lots of things in the world want your attention. Jealously guard it, so that you can focus on the things that matter most to you.