It’s 2010 and your Blackberry Bold just flashed pink to let you know your mum has sent you a message. A few minutes later its LED winks blue, the colour you’ve chosen for your best friend. At no point do you need to pick your phone up to know any of this.
Now zip forward to 2023. You’ve got ten banner notifications on your iPhone and you haven’t even left bed yet. Your smartwatch is flashing movement reminders, and the red dot on your mail app has been rapidly increasing in number all week. If that’s not bad enough, your language learning app, reminder-to-water-your-plants app, thermostat app, podcasts app, and messaging apps are all screaming for attention too. Your hand is now little more than a claw-like cradle for your smartphone.
Apple is, at least partly, to blame for what some have called ‘red dot syndrome’. The now-ubiquitous badges already existed prior to the launch of the first iPhone, in 2007, but smartphones pushed them to new levels. In 2018, New York Times tech and media reporter John Herrman described them as “bubble wrap laid over your entire digital existence”. “These dots are omnipresent, leading everywhere and ending nowhere,” he wrote.