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Turn off alerts churning out pointless info

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 12:47 27/11/2012

Notifications are incredibly useful, keeping us up to date on all aspects of our digital lives. You should turn them off.

While being able to carry our digital lives around with us everywhere is an amazing, almost magic ability, it's best when that digital life keeps its distance from real life.

A recent trip to Australia meant I had to turn off my iPhone's connectivity so I didn't come back to a huge bill.

This meant I was effectively cut off, able to log on to the web only once a day when we passed by a place with free wi-fi. It was great.

It took almost no time to adjust to not being constantly connected, not having email, Facebook or Twitter notifications competing with real-world events, such as eating ridiculously good food, in the case of Melbourne, and I found I didn't miss it at all.

Moments like that give you an opportunity to step back and look at how much information is being thrust at you constantly.

The main offender is, of course, the smartphone.

NotificationsThe little buggers are hooked into every social network, email account, gaming platform and news network you are, ready to update you with any scrap of new information, whether you care or not.

Since I got back, I've been turning down the notification firehose, and I suggest you do the same.

On an iOS device, you can do this through the main Settings menu. On Android, try looking in each app.

While turning every notification off is probably too extreme a measure for most people, there are definitely areas where you can turn a blind eye without fear of missing out.

For instance, do you really need to be told every time someone new follows you on Twitter? Or when someone retweets something you've tweeted?

What about being notified of every "like" or "comment" on Facebook?

Not only does this add another notification to the onslaught, but by emphasising how popular your utterances are, it pretty much encourages a narcissistic outlook.

Perhaps your job involves a certain amount of social-media savvy and this information is important to you, but I doubt that is the case for all.

But some services are no-brainers, and should be switched off.

You definitely don't need to be told every time a Facebook friend installs Instagram, or a new filter is available on Hipstamatic (for that matter, you probably don't need Hipstamatic at all).

But you probably do want to be told when your opponent in Words with Friends or Letterpress makes their move.

It takes a bit of time to go through the process of working all of this out, but you'll be glad you did.

Another issue is repetition - there are different systems for each device I use, and they don't work together.

When I get an email while I'm at work, a notification pop-up will arrive on the screen courtesy of Gmail, my phone will vibrate then light up with the email on screen and, if I have it near me, my iPad will do the same, minus the vibration.

Because of the vagaries of cloud-computing, this will all happen with a slight delay between each alert, meaning I'm effectively being told of the arrival of the message three or more times over the course of 10 seconds.

When the email in question is a press release irrelevant to me (about 40 per cent of my email traffic), this can get quite tedious.

But in this case, I don't have much choice but to put up with the cacophony - what if the email is genuinely important?

The problem is worse now that OS X has its own notifications menu.

Perhaps this wouldn't matter so much if I spent my whole day on my Mac, but it's a bit ridiculous to get home from work, open your laptop and be told about tweets you saw and answered six hours ago.

Surely if iCloud can show me alerts on all my devices, it can go the step further and work out when I've read and responded to those alerts.

I'm sure the systems will improve over time, and I look forward to the day when my technology will tell me something once, rather than in triplicate.

Until then, I've started turning off the notifications on devices I don't use for functions like email - the iPad, mostly - and I'd advise you to do the same.

Whatever level you go for, you won't regret reducing the volume of digital notifications you subject yourself to.

And given the ubiquity of smartphones and the tendency for everyone to have them turned up so loud, I won't regret telling you to do so.

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