Edit desk: Notification gratification


We all love notifications.

Nadine Elsayed

Nadine Elsayed

You upload a picture and wait for the “likes” to stream to your phone. You send a text and immediately check your messages for a response. You post a status and always expect an array of responses.

Why do we do this? Because notifications constantly provide us with a wide spectrum of self-validation.

On a basic level, that little blue or orange “1” alerts us that someone, somewhere, wants to interact with us. Our status got a comment, our picture got a like, our Tweet was favorited — our content was actually seen. One like can alleviate loneliness and remind us someone out there is feeling or doing the same thing.

Someone cares.

Further than reminding us of others’ presence, however, notifications tell us that our ideas actually matter. The fact you sent something out into the world and someone is responding to it is instant gratification. It validates what we do and heightens our self-worth. We’re just one person in a sea of seven billion, but our ideas still matter. Our lives are still significant.

Notifications, however, come with an array of problems.

While every “1” could be a social, sexual or professional opportunity, increasing notifications often turn into a competition of confirmed endorsement. For many, more likes and more interactions mean more value. That perceived value, in turn, tends to dictate our behavior both on and off of social media.

Is an Instagram picture that has hundreds of likes better than one that only has a few dozen? Is someone with a few thousand followers on Twitter more successful than the person starting out with a few hundred? Is our self-worth really determined by the number of people wishing us happy birthday on our Facebook wall? Why must we check every single Snapchat story before proceeding with our day?

These are the types of questions we subconsciously forgo with each new “ding.”

According to Psychology Today, the reason for our notification craving is dopamine. The chemical in your brain interacts with various functions such as thoughts, mood, attention, motivation and reward. When we receive notifications, dopamine is fired throughout our brain resulting in a reward-seeking urge, which can only be satisfied when we check that notification.

It’s that itching feeling you get to check your phone every five minutes when you might subconsciously realize there are no new updates. It’s that anticipation of reward derived from the dopamine released that creates an endless loop of desire and, ultimately, addiction.

The first thing we do in the morning is check our phones because we expect people to have reached out while we were sleeping. It becomes normal to have interactions, and it’s due to this expectation that a lack of notifications can become alarming.

But while answering notifications gives us that dopamine, imagine the power you have when you ignore them.

You put your phone on silent and check an assortment of messages in a few hours. You leave your friend on “read receipt” to feel superior. You don’t follow someone back to keep your followers-to-follow ratio sound. Changing that “1” to a “10” heightens the dopamine interaction and ultimately heightens our perceived self-worth.

The actual type of notification can matter as well. What if the response is negative? Rather than validation, it tears down our contribution. This leads to a type of dependency based entirely on acceptance and rejection, which may directly affect our happiness and morale.

Notifications have become an integral part of our lives. We all want more likes, more followers and more friends because increasing online interactions help keep us connected and happy. A fine line has to be drawn, however, between casually checking updates and relying on them to be complete. Ideas and events not on social media are still valid and still occurred, even if they result in no notifications.

So next time you’re at an event, try not to check your phone. Try not to tell the world where you are. Don’t Snapchat your food, don’t Instagram your outfit, don’t post updates to your ongoing Facebook album. Because by attempting to isolate yourself from the online world, you can ultimately start living in the real one.

Nadine Elsayed, ’18, is a multimedia editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].

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