Red dot addiction

31 March 2016
Red dot addiction

Hello. My name is Tom, and I’m a red dot addict.

I have no idea if red dot is actually a narcotic-related euphemism – even if it does conjure up images of a needle puncture on bare skin – but the red dot I am alluding to is the one we all see every day, everywhere, on our monitors and devices and screens.

Red dots come in all forms. Sometimes they have numbers, sometimes they’re not even red. But all of them stare at me in angry expectation, furious that I haven’t popped the little red pimples.

You knowYou know

Let’s look at addiction for a second.

Addiction: compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful

So how does this fit my relationship with the red dot?


This is an easy one.

Whenever my tablet/phone/laptop is in range of my sweaty, fidgeting mitts, I am looking for red dots. If I’ve been away for just a second, I have a little glance to the main areas – social or email icons, the Android navigation bar on my phone, maybe even the OSX notification panel – just to see if anything’s changed.

Invariably, it hasn’t. I’m not that popular.

Whatever happened to just being in the moment? Not a spare minute waiting for a friend to return from a visit to the toilet in a restaurant, or an ad break in a TV show, can be spent in quiet contemplation or thought. Nope. Gotta check for those bloody red dots. It’s become second nature, more of a Pavlovian response than a considered one.

There are a whole bunch of well-researched psychological effects that could be at play. We know, for example, that human brains are uncomfortable with incomplete things, which is why we step up our efforts as we tick items off a list. A red dot means unfinished business.

Causing harm

Checking for red dots definitely harms productivity. Slack is an especially nasty culprit. I’m now in a shitload of Slack teams and Google Hangout for various clients and interest groups, so it produces a teenage-grade acne of metaphorical notification spots.

I should be working right now. But I couldn’t possibly miss the Giphy that someone just posted of a cat falling off a roof.

It’s not even that funny.


Knowing that it’s harmful should make you want to stop, right?

Except it doesn’t. I know it’s harmful, and I know that these constant cursory glances do to my work health, but I can justify it because it only takes a second. And what if someone needs me for something urgent. I don’t want to miss any big opportunities.

Red dot justifications are rarely justified.

Seriously, what sort of opportunity do you need to see within the next few hours, that you’ll never see again? If people need you urgently, they’ll phone. And it doesn’t take a second, it takes many seconds over your whole day. Getting back on task can take up to 23 minutes, according to studies. Now how harmless is that red dot crack, again?

Withdrawal symptoms

I have no idea what these are. I’ve never gone long enough without a red dot fix to know what they might be.

But it’s totally fine, because I can stop any time.

Fighting addiction

Alcoholics Anonymous famously uses a twelve step program to fighting alcohol addiction, but here’s my 5 steps to fighting red dot addiction.

  1. Decide you want to beat your addiction

  2. List your reasons why you want to fight red dot addiction

  3. Wait, there’s a red dot on my Facebook logo

  4. Two invites to play stupid social games, and someone I’ve not spoken to for eight years is having a birthday. That was worth it

  5. …What are we doing again?

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