The Rise of Anti-Notifications

The evolution of a well-intentioned technology

Adrian Zumbrunnen

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Illustration by Evgeniy Dolgov

Few inventions affected our relationship with technology as much as push notifications have. Before modern-day notifications, most of us felt in charge of deciding when we want to use and interact with technology, but now, technology is largely making that decision for us.

It’s easy to blame technology, but it’s important to note that it isn’t technology at the heart of the problem—it’s our own inability to handle it. After all, not all notifications are created equal. And in order to better understand the evolution from relevance to noise, we need to talk about how we got to where we are.

In 1971, Raymond Tomlinson, a computer programmer from Massachusetts, had a daunting task that would become a critical cornerstone of modern-day digital culture. While working on ARPANET, the first version of the internet subsidized by the U.S. government, Tomlinson needed to figure out a way to let users send messages to one another. Before his invention, messages could only be sent to users who had their accounts on the same computer. This changed when Tomlinson added the now ubiquitous @ symbol. This ingenious addition allowed users to separate the recipient’s name from the name of the machine they were using.

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Adrian Zumbrunnen

Human Interface Designer at Apple • Opinions are my own