Why Apple’s Notification Bubbles Are so Stressful

Plus, the simple changes that could make a big difference

Angela Lashbrook
Published in
7 min readFeb 27, 2019


Credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images Plus

In Microprocessing, columnist Angela Lashbrook aims to improve your relationship with technology every week. Microprocessing goes deep on the little things that define your online life today, to give you a better tomorrow.

I hate the color red.

Not in all contexts, of course. A richly dyed red wool sweater is beautiful and even festive. It’s hard to find anything more glamorous than a garment made of red silk. A red dahlia is perhaps one of the most perfect flowers, the way the petals turn dark at the center.

Then there are things colored red for more practical reasons. A stop sign is red to ensure you see it and avoid accidents, while a red stripe on the floor indicates that you’re not to cross it. I don’t enjoy those particular red things — their crimson shades are often without depth or character, a flat hue that indicates “danger” and little else — but I’m glad they’re designed to catch my attention. A stop sign is too crucial an item to craft for beauty alone.

And then there’s the red on my phone.

I have 130 unread messages, which my phone relentlessly reminds me about in the aggressive red badge on my iMessage app. I have 15 missed calls, 99 percent of which are spam; I get to think about that robot voice berating me about my nonexistent car loan every time I see the red badge over my phone app. You don’t even want to know the number screaming at me every time I glance at my email.

I am assaulted by my phone every time I unlock it.

These ugly red badges are a reminder of how I’m either a failure (Call your grandparents! Answer that nice text!) or a target (as is the case with the robot spammer hawking auto loans). And because of their hue, they’re difficult to ignore. I am assaulted by my phone every time I unlock it. And I’m not alone.

“They drive me insane,” Paul Sherman, an assistant professor and the program coordinator of the user experience design master’s program at Kent State University, tells me. The red, as he put it, “causes more stress and…



Angela Lashbrook

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.