Nicolas Bouliane

Making quieter technology Posted on

Technology constantly calls for my attention, like a needy child. Attention is engagement and engagement is profit. Thus the best minds of our generation are busy grabbing my attention by increasingly coercive means.

This is a post about how I fought back and got technology to just shut the fuck up. It’s regularly updated.

Clothespin holding lips shut

What’s wrong?

I want to use technology on my own terms, for my own ends. I want calm technology that respects the boundaries that I set for it, that respects my time, my attention, my privacy and above all my consent.

I don’t want to get sidetracked by addictive technology when I mean to sit down and do work. I want the computer to go back in its box when I’m done with it - like any other tool - so that I can do other things.

“A person’s primary task should not be computing, but being human.”

Amber Case

Silencing technology, bit by bit

For the last three years, I’ve had a zero tolerance approach to nagging technology. Instead of tolerating the same annoyances for years, I nip them in the bud.

I did not throw my smartphone in a lake to retire to the mountains. I just excised the cancerous parts and preserved the good ones.

Web browsing

I can’t tolerate the unfiltered web anymore. An ad blocker removes ads, cookie banners, newsletter prompts, and all the other annoyances that get between me and my task. I use uBlock Origin with the “annoyances” blocklists enabled.

uBlacklist removes spammy websites from Google search results. I use it to hide Pinterest and Quora, but also low-quality high-ranking websites like Forbes and MakeUseOf.

I increasingly rely on ChatGPT to get answers without sifting through pages of ad-infested blogspam. It’s unreasonably effective.


I turned off all notifications on my phone, except for phone calls, instant messages and bank transactions. Nothing else gets through; not even email. Few things require my immediate attention.

“Technology should require the smallest possible amount of attention. Communicate information without taking the user out of their environment or task. […] A calm technology will move easily from the periphery of our attention, to the center, and back. The periphery is informing without overburdening.”

Amber Case

In other cases, notifications are good. If my website goes down or some automated system fails, I want to be notified. Computers should monitor things so that I don’t have to.


I turned off email notifications on my phone. On my laptop, I only get them during office hours. The paid version of Checker Plus for Gmail lets me set quiet hours. It’s well worth the money.

I unsubscribe from unwanted emails as soon as I get them, so I get very few of them. I created filters to delete the few unwanted emails that get through.

Now, most of the emails I get were written by a human and addressed to me.

However, even genuine emails can be too much. I run a website about German bureaucracy, and I get a lot of reader mail. I used to invite them to contact me, but now I ask them to ask other people first. It’s just too much work.


I made my calendar louder to check my phone less. It vibrates like an alarm until I turn it off. This makes it easier not to have my phone on me at all times. I use Calendar Alarm Reminder for Android.


Apps have repeatedly violated my trust, so I rarely use them. I prefer websites, because they have limited access to my device. They are subject to my ad blocker, and they stop running when I close the tab. They cannot pry their way to the centre of my attention.

Social media

I only keep a social media presence for my business. I scrubbed my personal profiles clean with Redact and made them private. All notifications are turned off. I do not follow anyone, so all my feeds are empty.

This had no impact on my social life. Zilch. My friends were either quiet or silenced by the algorithm. Facebook was hiding my own mother’s posts from me. I was already missing out.

These websites perceive my lack of engagement as an affront. They pepper my feed and notifications with “suggested content” and “things you may like” in a desperate bid for my attention.

News and feeds

There were feeds on every website I used, on every new tab I opened, on my phone’s home screen, and in my operating system’s task bar. They were very distracting, so I got rid of them.

Then I stopped drinking from the fire hose of current events. The current muddles the veracity and the importance of things. I prefer a sip from the puddle a little away from the chaos, where the ripples settled and I can see below the surface.

So I switched to long-form articles. After the race against time subsides, the quality of the reporting gets markedly better. It’s less important to be first, and more important to be right.

I also maintain a “things I don’t understand” list. I pluck items from it once in a while, and queue up a few articles about them. They’re nice bite-sized chunks of entertainment.

I use Pocket to queue articles and read them without distractions. It’s okay, but not great. I read on a completely silenced iPad. It’s disconnected from everything - a glorified e-book reader.

This has almost completely replaced scrolling in bed and at the breakfast table. My phone stays muted on my desk until I’ve had coffee.

I read more than ever in my life, and it’s now a deliberate act, not an anxiety-inducing impulse. I have learned a lot more from those sources than from following the news cycle.


I still use reddit, but a lot less than before.

I uninstalled the mobile app. The mobile website is unbearable, so I’m rarely tempted to use it.

On desktop, I use The old website is simpler, faster and quieter than the redesign. It feels more like a forum, and less like a dopamine casino. The Old Reddit Redirect extension enforces my choice. I hid a few of the remaining nuisances with ad blocker rules.

I filtered toxic content on the front page by blocking subreddits; a lot of subreddits. There are no more American politics, outrage porn or drama on my front page. I only follow a handful of hobby subreddits.

This is the default Reddit experience:

This is my own:

A bit later, I hid the “next page” button. I get 25 posts, no more. It’s an unreasonably effective way to cut mindless browsing.


YouTube went from recommending videos I want to watch to videos it wants me to watch. In 2019, it replaced related videos with recommended videos. In 2021, it started shoving Shorts down my throat. In 2022, it started putting recommended videos in search. Give it a few years, and YouTube will give me as much agency as cable television.

uBlock Origin removes ads and makes YouTube bearable. The Unhook extension keeps the experience tightly focused. Now, I only see videos from people I follow. I also like this extension that fills the page with just the video, nothing else.

Every other website

I use uBlock Origin to block a lot more than ads. I hide practically all suggested content feeds, and most notification badges.

My own websites

I design my own websites to be calm technology. I tend to forget that the unfiltered web is a lot louder than what I experience. To me, a calm website is just normal.

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A quiet website

I removed comments from the websites I run, because I don’t want to deal with comment moderation and spam. Instead, I invite people to email me. Emails are more manageable, and feel more personal.

I design the websites themselves to run forever with almost no maintenance. They are simple static websites with few moving parts. I have paid for years of hosting in advance, and set up automatic payments just in case. Everything is behind Cloudflare for extra redundancy. If something goes wrong, Better Uptime will notify me.

The tech I build

Nowadays, I only write code for myself and I don’t get paid for it. I have less patience for maintenance; I just want things to work. A person’s primary task should not be computing, but being human.

These days, I delete more code than I write. My software gets simpler and easier to maintain. I pare complex systems down to small scripts with few dependencies. These rarely break down and require almost no maintenance.

Lessons from culinary school don’t always apply home cooking. That’s also true for software engineering and small-scale software. An app can be a home-cooked meal. I write more and more software that doesn’t scale, designed for a single user with a bunch of hard-coded behaviour. It’s a lot easier to maintain.

My own behaviour

I leave my phone out of the bedroom. When I go to bed, I leave it in silent mode on my desk.

Instead of getting smacked with raw social media first thing in the morning, I read a book, or articles I have queued in Pocket. The iPad I read on is completely disconnected from the cloud and social media. It’s a distraction-free device.

I used to go straight to the computer - still in my underwear - to continue something that started on my phone in bed. Now I have coffee and breakfast on the balcony, then catch up with the world.

I also post a lot less online. On one hand, the internet got much angrier during the pandemic, and on the other hand, I mellowed out. I don’t get the same rush from engaging with internet drama. It was never worth it.

“A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”


The original draft of this article had a far more desperate tone. It had the done of an alcoholic pouring his liquor down the kitchen drain. I was losing sleep over internet drama, and couldn’t fully check out. You now read the revised account of a sober man.

I sometimes forget what the unfiltered internet looks like. A thin article wrapped in ads, topped with five layers of modals, and a video auto-playing in the corner. An inbox that’s 90 percent noise. Two fifteen second ads before each YouTube video, and another one in the middle. Recommended content in every crevice of the user interface. This was technology for most of my life.

Now it’s all quieter.

Did all this effort unlock superhuman productivity? No, but it helped. I spend less time on the computer. I don’t get sidetracked as much. Internet drama does not phase me. I have more time to read, garden, and ride my bicycle.

The computer is a tool again, and now it’s going back in its box.