We live in chaotic times. Multiple ride-sharing apps to choose from, Instagram versus Snapchat Stories, and, perhaps worst of all, notifications for literally everything. I cannot stand to leave notifications unread, no matter how much I want to ignore them ("Happy Birthday" from my meal-delivery app?) — but despite my own compulsions, I see these unread notifications everywhere: on my friends' phones, on co-workers' phones, and even on the phones of strangers I'm scoping on the bus.

Frankly, I don't know how these people live.

How do they fall asleep at night with disorder charging on the nightstand? How do they walk around all day with a pocketful of bedlam? I want to understand these individuals; I really do. I want to know what makes them tick. And I'd like to tell you I'm doing it for the greater good, for society, for some noble cause — but in reality, I'm doing it for myself. Something is going on here, and I'm going to get to the bottom of it.

This is my investigation, and these are their stories.

Editor's Note: Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Faces have been obscured to protect the identities of the "innocent."


What is your name, age, and how many notifications do you currently have?

My name is Angela. I'm 25, and I have 19,296 email notifications.

Wow. First question: Is your apartment currently on fire?

Not at the moment, but it has been on fire before.

Do you want to share how it caught on fire?

No. [laughs]

Moving right along. So when did you start accumulating these notifications? How do you go from having 30 unread emails to 10,000?

I just can’t be bothered to open emails that don’t seem important at first glance. If someone repeatedly emails me and messages me and tries to contact me in a variety of ways, then I’ll see what that’s about.

What is your workflow? How do you check emails every day when you have 19,000 emails?

I’ll just scroll through. If it’s not from someone I deem important, or if the intro of the email doesn’t seem important, then I’ll just scroll past it. Or I’ll make a mental note to open it later and then later decide that it’s not important.

But how do you determine when you’ve reached the end of new messages in a sea of 19,000 emails? I imagine it all runs together.

There’s no start and end. I’ll just refresh periodically, and if something new and seemingly important pops up then I’ll look. If something of substance manifests from the ether.

Have the notifications ever been a detriment to your personal or professional life?

Yes. But usually the notifications I miss tend to be for office events, so it’s kind of nice. I’m really surprised when I find out about a party last minute. It is a little bit embarrassing when my boss walks over and there are thousands of unread emails in my work inbox. And also my desktop at work mirrors my email situation. It’s covered in icons. Like hundreds. Thousands, maybe.


[laughs] I can tell you’re distressed. You don’t even want to know what my old computer looked like.

On a scale from 1–10, where 1 is a slob, 10 is a neat freak, and 5 is an average person, where are you?

Like 5. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the average person had like 20,000 unread emails. [laughs]

Maybe I’m the weird one for always keeping my inbox at zero. So are there other areas of your life where your organization system is somehow, let's say, unorthodox?

I make mental notes. I can’t do lists or anything. It drives me insane to see an organized list. Things are much clearer in my head. I literally remember emails in my head that I’m supposed to respond to. It’s very zen. Although it’s possible I’ve missed some in the 19,000. [laughs]

I am glad you're at peace with your lifestyle. Do you see yourself ever changing? Or will you die with 250,000 unread emails in your inbox?

Probably. I don’t foresee myself changing. I’m an Aquarius, so I’m emotionally unavailable, which manifests itself in my emails, I guess. By the way, I got 14 emails during this conversation. I’m now at 19,310.


In a phrase, Angela "can't be bothered." But I am bothered. This is not what I expected, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit it's exactly what I feared. She's living a productive life with thousands of notifications. It shouldn't be possible to do this. We need the notifications to stay organized. Right?

I need to find more sources. I need to know more.


What is your name, age, and how many notifications do you currently have?

I’m Jessica, I’m 23 years old, and I have 123 unread text messages right now.

Whoa. You don’t read your text messages. And yet you still, I assume, have a productive life as a normal, 23-year-old human woman. How do you do that?

So my messages started adding up when I was in these crazy group chats with a bunch of different groups. Individuals would start conversations with each other in the groups while I was at work or doing my own thing. I’d come back to my phone and I’d have like 20 text messages. And I’d think, OK, well, they seem to be having a conversation. If they really need to get to me, they’ll send me a separate text message or call me. And over time, I realized this kept happening, and then sometimes even if I did get a text message from one friend, I’d get to it later, or maybe not even get to it at all. Eventually people learned to call me. They realized I’m not such a great text message person.

So you play hard to get, basically.

I actually wasn’t going to respond to your text messages asking for an interview, but then I thought that would be too much.

Shade: thrown. But are there certain people — like your mom, for instance — who you pay attention to?

Yeah, I guess there are certain people. My mom, my really close friends, boyfriends, people like that. But if it’s just a person I had one class with or saw out a few weeks ago, I don’t really feel the need to even look at that. Most of the time I don’t think anything is going to come of it, so I’m just like, what is the use in looking at this and responding? I don’t really care that much. [laughs]

That is SO ice-cold. So if someone texts you from “the fringe,” let’s say, you’re like, “Yeahhhhhh, I don’t have time to deal with this.”

People I’ve ghosted in the past have the habit of popping up, like coming out of the woodwork. I definitely don’t mess with those. Like the other day, I got a text that said “I thought I saw you running the other day.” My phone lets me look at the message without opening it. I quickly realized, OK, I don’t need to respond to this kind of question.

That wasn't even a question, in fact! But I get that. You gotta dodge the ghosts. So when did you start losing this battle with notifications?

Well, at the beginning of last fall, my phone broke, so I lost all my contacts. I got a temporary phone and kept getting texts from numbers I didn’t recognize because I didn’t have them in my contacts. And then the temporary phone ended up becoming permanent, and that’s kind of where it started.

So you became enlightened. Interesting. Have the notifications ever made you miss an important event or hang out?

Not really. The worst thing that’s happened is someone keeps texting me, the same person, and I’m like, oh shoot, I’m being kind of an asshole. This person is really trying to get to me. Then I’ll open it and respond, and they’ll say, “So, are you still coming to this or...?” You know, something casual. I’ve never gotten into a fight or conflict because I didn't respond to a text. Before that point, people will usually call me and ask if I got the message. And then I’m like, no, what’s up?

So you're constantly, willfully ignoring text messages. What are you DOING in the meantime? Are you using your phone for other things? Are you snapping?

[laughs] I’m a third-year dual-degree student, so my phone usually isn’t a priority. I’m not like a lot of other 23-year-old girls my age. I’m not constantly on my phone. I’m usually pretty busy with school. I do use other apps. It’s not like I’m continuously ignoring texts. The people who I do want to talk to, I respond to them. Usually it’s group messages or unknown people or someone I haven’t heard from in a long time I ignore.

So apart from your text situation, you must be pretty organized.

Yes. I don’t think I’m a neat freak, but I’m pretty organized. The thing is, sometimes the text messages feel like white noise or background noise, and if I’m doing work or I’m in school, getting slammed with text messages is the last thing I want to deal with. It's interrupting. So oftentimes, I just let it go. If they really want to talk to me, I will respond to a phone call or an email.

So what is the future of your text inbox?

The other day, this Instagram-famous person posted a screenshot of her text messages, and she had close to a thousand unread. I think it’d be pretty cool to be able to say I’ve ignored a thousand text messages.


Just when I thought things couldn't get worse, Jess texts me back. This girl isn't just getting by — she's earning dual degrees. She's incredibly high-functioning, and she doesn't even read texts. And the worst part? She wasn't always like this. Something changed for her, and she liked it. And the sick truth is I'm beginning to understand why...

But this isn't over yet. I have one more source.


What is your name, age, and how many notifications do you currently have?

Christopher, age 29, and I currently have 10 missed calls, 12 unread text messages, 4,660 unread personal emails, and 14,674 unread work emails.

My dear god. Is everything OK?

Everything is great.

OK, good. To me, this is suggestive of some seriously reckless behavior.

You’re just assuming things then!

Fair enough. So let’s start at the beginning. Did you start developing all these notifications when you got a smartphone, or was there a distinct point you stopped caring?

It’s always been like this. I get added to so many different listservs and email chains I don’t need to be on. I would rather do things more efficiently by focusing my energy on things that really matter than focusing it on clearing out my inbox.

Great point. My question is: How is this more efficient? Because it’s more difficult for you to tell when any single email or notification needs your attention, right?

So with work emails, I star or flag project threads I’m on. That way it’s denoted and comes to the top. And then I check my inbox at least once an hour to gaze at it and see if anything has come in. And then I let it go down to the wayside after that.

For personal, I don’t get many emails on a regular basis. I get a push notification on my phone for each personal email. I glance at it. If it needs to be addressed, I deal with it right away.

OK, so for work, you just keep up by checking every hour of the day?

Yeah. I check the timestamps and sort of use it those as a way to know when to step away from my desk. I try to get up every hour. And then, like I said, I star important chains so they’re sorted to the top. See, a star only requires you to click one button — a tag requires multiple clicks, and marking the email unread requires multiple clicks. Multiple clicks get tedious really fast. One click is better.

Interesting. The concept of “read and unread” is a feature designed to help people stay organized. But you have built another layer of organization on top of that by starring emails. That seems smart. I spend a lot of time marking things as read that I didn’t actually read because I want to get it out of my inbox.

I’m more about working efficiently as opposed to working harder. So if there’s some way I can deconstruct a system to better serve my needs, that’s good. If I can make a judgment within like 10 seconds of reading my inbox, every hour, as opposed to clearing it all out by the end of the day, that is beneficial in the long run. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me.

Have you ever missed something in all the emails?

The only time I’ve missed something was when I would first get put onto a work project. Sometimes I don’t notice it right away because I don’t recognize the name. But this doesn’t happen very often.

Are you organized in other areas of your life?

Yeah, I mean, when it comes to planning logistics of an event or doing a to-do list for my workweek then I’m good.

Could you define your workspace, like your desk at work, in three adjectives?

Let’s see… Sentimental. Action figures. And protein powder. [laughs]

Only one of those is an adjective, but I don’t care. Let me ask you this: Do you want to change? Do you think you’ll ever change? Or will you go to the grave with 250,000 unread emails?

My company just upgraded our accounts to unlimited inbox space. So the work account is going to grow for a while. You know what they say: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!


Chris believes life with thousands of notifications is more efficient. My world just went from read to unread. I might have gone too deep.


I thought only the deranged had thousands of notifications, but it's clear the problem runs even deeper. Angela, Jessica, and Chris aren't insane. Far from it. Their only crime is a coping mechanism for a chaotic world. We live in an era of communication overload. Notifications, once a tool to stay informed and organized, have become like so much other white noise in our media-saturated lives. And perhaps most distressing of all, the noise is loudest at work, the supposed home to organization and production.

I thought I had things under control. I thought the time I spent setting up email tagging, reading group texts, and marking emails I didn't read as "read" was keeping me organized. But it turns out the world is a spam folder, and I'm trapped inside it.

Maybe ignoring notifications is the only way to get my life back. Maybe I still don't know enough. Or maybe I know too much.

Afraid? Confused? Us too. That's why we turned to the Samsung Galaxy Note7. Its advanced features help you do more every day.

Don't let the notifications catch up to you. Get yours today at your local Best Buy.

Designed by Victoria Reyes