The Great Nokia Time Travel Experiment (How I Learned to Shake My Notifications Habit)

Justin Daab Customer Experience Design

In the middle of 2017, I found myself reading quite a bit of the current research on the effects of heavy smartphone usage on cognitive function. You can see an overview of what I found here. In short, the persistent drip of dopamine our brain releases when we get rewarded with repeated notifications can negatively affect our ability to concentrate as well as diminish our ability to transfer short-term memory into long-term memory. Cool, right?

Coincidentally, as I was reading all of this research, my iPhone battery was, as they say, giving up the ghost. Knowing I would at some point have to part with my iPhone for some 24- to 48-hour period for repairs anyway, I decided it was, with the help of the newly relaunched Nokia 3310 3G, time to attempt to return to a simpler era.

Instant weight loss

I went online and put down my hard-earned $59.99 (plus tax and shipping) on a new, previous blog about wearables, I have a limit on the number of “things” i will commit to carrying. Specifically, I have a limit of four NEED to remember when I leave the house: Wallet. Keys. Glasses. Cell phone. If I add a fifth, I’ll likely forget one of them at home. So, no iPod. Suddenly, the calculus of the value of this newfound calm has changed. It was time to reopen negotiations with the old iPhone—newly repaired and returned from its battery transplant surgery at the hands of an Apple Store tech.

The grand compromise

While using the Nokia—more specifically—my experience with Gmail, I realized that even this old school handset could provide unending distraction if properly (improperly?) set up to do so. The afflictions resulting from iPhone use are not inherent in its glass touch screen, but rather from the default preponderance of notifications. The next step. Return to the iPhone, with all notifications off.

I cannot recommend it enough

Not the Nokia, sorry. Texting with T9 is still an awful way to communicate. But an iPhone with notifications turned off is a definite life improvement. Eventually I found I needed calendar reminders and text notifications (without previews). But that’s it. Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are not mission critical. Maybe not even enjoyable when they get full reign over your attentions.

Of course, I will keep the Nokia as a pending threat to my kids if their smartphone usage gets out of hand.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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