Hello, friends. As a Very Important Technology Reporter, I'd like to talk to you about the most pressing issues in your digital life, the things that REALLY matter.
So let's imagine you're just living life on your own terms, enjoying yourself, and feeling positive and good about everything. You decide to log onto Facebook.
Oh, wow, look at this. A message? For ME?! How exciting! Someone wants to talk to me!!!!
Wow. THIS IS LITERALLY THE WORST THING EVER.
We live in an age of notification overload, bombarded by red dots pulsating on our phones, constantly demanding our attention, and mostly for dumb and trivial things. And when it comes to Facebook — forget Cambridge Analytica and all that privacy stuff — by far, the worst thing it has ever inflicted on its 2 billion users is the “You are now connected on Messenger” notification.
Here’s how it works — although, of course, you already know: When you accept a friend request, or someone accepts yours, you get a satisfying and exciting red dot at the friend request spot. And then, you see it — a notification in the Messenger tab. Aha! Someone sent you something! How exciting — especially since you probably add TONS of friends these days! Maybe it’s your new friend.
Nope! It’s just the fucking "You are now connected on Messenger" alert.
This is very annoying if you’re looking at Facebook on your desktop web browser, and a notification pops up in the Messenger window. But it's even worse on your phone, because you get a red dot notification on a whole other app (which CEO Mark Zuckerberg had hoped would be “a better experience” when he separated it from the Facebook app). And if you have an Apple Watch that buzzes on your wrist when you get a Messenger message, this sucks.
The thing is, Facebook is overloading us with useless alerts at a very fragile moment in our digital lives. We’re already addicted to our phones, to our own detriment. This problem is so bad that tech companies now even acknowledge our need to find ways to take time-outs from our phones. Apple just announced a feature this week at its Worldwide Developers Conference that lets you set time limits on apps (“you have 5 minutes left for Instagram today”). Teens are quitting social media because they know it makes them miserable. Zuckerberg has started talking about the need to focus on “time well spent” on Facebook, instead of just spending more time there.
Something is fundamentally broken about the way our brains are absorbing all these notifications. Alerting us when we’ve connected to someone on Messenger might just tip us into lunacy.
Facebook recently sent notifications to users, telling them that it is “Reducing clutter in your notifications.” (“We want to make sure that you’re not getting too many notifications,” the notification said.) But asked by BuzzFeed News why it still pushes out this really annoying notification about connecting on Messenger, the company did not immediately comment. Was there some user data that showed that people actually LOVE it, despite complaints on social media that indicate otherwise? Do they just do it because seeing that notification forces you to open Messenger, and then hopefully once you’re there you might use it, maybe even see some advertising? Is it to remind people, “Hey, Messenger is, like, a Thing”, as if maybe you thought Facebook was only for seeing your high school friends post fake news from Macedonia instead of chatting with people.
On Thursday afternoon, Facebook said that it plans to scale back these notifications and only send them to people who have frequently opened them in the past.