Last year, I turned off the email notifications from my phone in an attempt to declutter my life. Not because it didn’t bring me joy, but because it brought me unnecessary stress and anxiety. With the combination of email lists that I’m on, I receive over 50 emails per day – yes I’ve counted. Imagine 50-plus notifications going off on your phone, lighting up your screen with messages in the following manner:
[intl-student-update] Bechtel Weekly Events
**Library Due Date reminder**
ZIPCAR: You reserved Caravan Julianne
Important Graduation Information, Action Required
[svc4all] Two-Minute Survey for a good cause!
I receive an email at random moments – walking into class, during lunch, while getting dressed – and I am rarely in a position to respond right away. Unable to immediately respond, I’m forced to save the email for later which adds another nagging task to my mental to-do list. In an attempt to remedy this, I got rid of the notifications. When I announced this to a friend, one of the wisest, chillest people I know, he was baffled:
“How did you even live with those notifications in the first place?” He’d never had email notifications on his phone. I doubt he’d ever even installed the app.
“I don’t know … how else would I know what’s going on?” I responded, shocked that people had found a way to thrive without constant updates. I thought back to the times I received an email that required an urgent response and the possible repercussions of not immediately seeing the message.
Maybe that’s part of the problem. Is anything really urgent enough to require an absolute immediate response? I cannot drop the feeling that I need to face the unnecessary clutter-emails just for the sake of those few, important ones. This means, however, that I subject myself to a slew of email notifications that are more stressful than useful. So I disabled the notifications.
The Gmail app remains on my phone, perched comfortably between Messages and Safari, and I’m not sure that much has changed.
Now that my phone screen no longer feeds me emails, I compulsively click the icon and refresh to see what I missed. I crave the feed. It acts as another form of social media. It informs me of free food, open internships, upcoming meetings, student group updates and feedback from professors. When Facebook or Snapchat are lifeless, I turn to my email to see what’s up. And when I’m searching for the latest news on a campus hot topic, I search keywords in my email inbox, shaping my Stanford inbox into a localized google.
But I think I’ve gone too far. When I feel awkward at a social event, I open the Gmail app and pull down to refresh while thinking, how sad is it that I’m checking my email right now? Yet, I can’t help myself because the app has become a comforting crutch for me.
This weekend, I attended one of the SIMPS improv shows – which, side note, was incredible; I’d highly recommend! Venturing to the event alone, I sat next to a stranger with black, wavy hair in a green t-shirt. During intermission, I tried to resist checking my phone but seeing him on his phone gave me a poor excuse to check mine too.
As a substitute, I brainstormed conversation starters. Something like “Have you been to a SIMPS show before?” seemed harmless enough, but, ultimately, no words exited my mouth. Instead, I opened my email app to find … nothing. No one was sending emails at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, so why was I checking email at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night?
Luckily, the guy next to me broke the ice:
“This is great, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah!” I turned to him in surprise, pocketing my phone. I was immediately grateful that he’d started a conversation. Now ready to make conversation, I inquired:“Have you been to a SIMPS show before?”
And so we talked and I learned that he’s a first-year who also enjoys writing. We share a brief moment of connection and I’m disappointed in my failure to speak up earlier. Now, I’m wondering how many friendly interactions I’ve missed out on because I was checking my email. I’m eyeing my phone right now and the thought of getting rid of the email app discomforts me. But since I’m writing an entire article about this, I think it’s really time.
There … it’s gone. And the world keeps spinning. Here’s to mental decluttering and real social interactions.
Contact Astrid Casimire at acasimir ‘at’ stanford.edu.