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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Is this one reason we’re so stressed in our daily lives?

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In Gallup’s recent ‘State of the Global Workplace 2023’ report, the US and Canada tied for the highest number of people saying they’d regularly experienced stress in their daily lives in the last 12-months. (52 per cent).

Australia and New Zealand were close behind at 47 per cent. These figures are back to the record highs last seen in 2021.

In addition, an analysis of 380,000 employees in developed countries finds that levels of burnout have almost doubled since the start of the pandemic.

Last week, ‘The Wall Street Journal,’ published an article with the title, ‘chatty parent group texts swell to dozens of messages at a time.’

Imaging leaving a meeting at work.

You take your smartphone out of your pocket and see you have 37 recent unread messages in your eldest’s school year Whats App group.

‘Wow,’ something must be wrong,’ you think, as a bit of panic sets in.

Quickly scrolling though the chat you discover, to your relief, that the thread was started by a teacher - suggesting they buy pizzas for next week’s parents evening.

  • ‘Great idea. We’ll bring the salad,’ says the first parent to contribute.

  • ‘We don’t like peperoni,’ says the second.

  • ‘My husband Roger is attending. He’ll have 3 slices.’

  • ‘Shall we send some money?’

  • Extra cheese for us.’

  • ‘We normally have burgers on a Thursday.’

Now, there’s no doubt that Whats App groups are useful.

  • If you can’t get little Tommy to rugby on Saturday, simply pop a message in the group chat and, no doubt, one of the other parents can help.

  • And we’d agree that they’re an excellent way of keeping up to date with family news.

  • And, in the work environment, they’re really useful in team communications, project management and an assortment of other applications.

But there are lots of downsides.

A journalist in ‘The Guardian’ recently wrote:

‘As I write I have 105 unread Whats App messages, 64 unread text messages and 78 unread emails. But it’s the Whats App group chats that stress me the most. To be honest every week I spend more time on these things and it stresses me out. If I were a person of courage, I would simply exit these chats as soon as I am added to them but I feel a weight of social obligation and remain. I am also fearful of missing something.’

Say you have three kids.

Each of their schoolyears has a Whats App group. The kids are involved in the rugby club, ballet classes and horse riding (all with their own Whats App groups). Each of the kids has groups that consist of the parents of their friends.

You have work groups and other family groups.

It’s no wonder that, in a recent survey, 42 per cent agreed that keeping up with Whats App groups is the equivalent of having a part-time job.

And, no doubt, we all encounter things that are a just a bit of a nuisance.

  • Participants who feel they need to respond to everything – no matter what the subject or how small the point.

  • Participants who use the group as an Alexa equivalent - to ask random questions they could figure out for themselves.

  • The urgency of it all – if you don’t make your point straight away, it’ll probably be out-of-date by the time you get round to it.

  • It’s impossible to know at a glace if someone is sending important information - people judge all messages, notifications and pings as having the same weight until read.

  • If it really gets out of control, the thread spreads out into private messages with people complaining privately about others – no private messages? Take care. They’re probably complaining about you.

  • There’s a reluctance to leave the group – you might be seen as ‘rude’ or you’re not interested.

  • As the kids get older, the groups keep changing – new classes, new interests, new friends. Wow, imagine the consequences of inviting the wrong set of friends to a sleep over or birthday party. The ‘Mum’ group that worked last month might not work anymore.

Whats App, which is owned by Meta (Facebook), is popular with groups such as parents and schools because it allows up to 1024 participants in the group. Last year they introduced the ‘silent exit’ feature, which allows participants to remove themselves from the chat without others knowing. But most of us are concerned about FOMO. (The fear of missing out). What if they’re planning something and you don’t hear about it?

In his book, ‘The Twittering Machine, Richard Seymour recommends we all take an ‘executive overview of how Whats App is eating into our lives.’

‘The basic thing it does is colonise and take away bits of your attention here and there, until gradually, it starts to take a bigger and bigger part of it. Think about what you could be doing in that time. There’s something to be said for the idea that not everything needs to be responded t, or deserves a response.’

Of course, on the face of it, there are some pretty simple solutions to these problems. Turn notifications off. Put your phone in another room. Only look at your phone at certain times in the day. Or what about a buddy system – where you and a friend monitor separate groups and notify the other of anything important?

Research regularly shows that smartphone addiction (and the figures for how much time we spend on our phones are startling) can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, stress and depression. So, these are pretty serious issues, particularly for younger generations.

Perhaps we should start a Whats App group in an attempt to generate solutions to the problem?

Or perhaps, less ironically, a face-to-face discussion?

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