Permanently Online and Always Stressed Out


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Remote Teaching Stress

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Will remote teaching for 3-5 hours per day help our pupils?

In a new research paper, Permanently Online – Always Stressed Out? The Effects of Permanent Connectedness on Stress Experiences, researchers highlight how digital ICT connectedness might negatively affect user’s stress levels.

Pretty obvious headline I suppose, but let me unpick the details given that all of us are working online more than we ever have before, plus the fact that I’ve blogged some past research which suggests social media has a ‘tiny effect‘ on the life satisfaction of teenagers.

Online connections increase stress

Digital ICT does impact on our stress.

Personally, I’m dealing with over 5,000 notifications a month which (I resigned myself several years ago) can no longer respond to. Let’s also consider private messaging on Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, old-fashioned text messages, vlogs and never-ending emails.

Communication floods in from all angles.

How one’s mind is cognitively preoccupied with online communication is therefore described by the salience dimension of online vigilance (Reinecke et al., 2018). Second, as the smartphone provides many positive experiences in daily life (e.g., satisfying social interactions), reacting promptly to smartphone notifications is connected to obtaining positive gratifications (Wang & Tchernev, 2012) and avoiding social sanctions (e.g., consequences of responding late to messages; Mai, Freudenthaler, Schneider, & Vorderer, 2015).

This is one paragraph from the paper, published by the International Communication Association (December 2020).

Remote teaching and learning

As we move into a third lockdown across the UK, something for all teachers, parents and politicians to consider is how we multitask online, particularly when accessing social media, emails and video, not to mention doing this alongside real-world events. For example, background television noise, conversations in the room and the dog barking; all of this “exceeds and exhausts users’ working memory capacities and, consequently, their situational coping capacities.”

Later on in the paper:

Being “cognitively online” rather than present in the moment appears to go hand in hand with undesirable effects on media users’ stress levels. These findings stand in contrast to the notion that individuals successfully cope with being permanently online by simply becoming used to this mental state” (Hefner & Vorderer, 2017; Reinecke et al., 2017) as highlighted by Rolf Degen.

Reducing cognitive load

This research suggests that “a high communication load does not necessarily contribute to the experience of high cognitive load per se”, but other factors may be more important. For example, the number of messages received, media literacy competency and cognitive capacity. Message content and characteristics also has some influence.

Being ‘cognitively online’ rather than present in the real world, as the research references, go hand-in-hand with undesirable effects of media users’ stress levels. If you are focused on online communications there will be a reduction of sufficient cognitive function available in the real world (for “situational demands, and thus feel more stressed quickly”). For example, can you still read and reply to emails from your desk whilst teaching?

Conclusions

The paper concludes that specific usage patterns such as multitasking and connectedness will have a big cost for users’ cognitive capacity. Having an “online vigilance” has an additional source of digital stress.

There is a message in here for everyone, particularly myself who is active on social media. What is not yet known is, which type of ICT usage leads to stress and anxiety?

We know less not more is better, but now we have some more research to suggest that trying to manage multiple ICT platforms, including using them during the real world, is not necessarily helpful for individual wellbeing.

Reference

Anna Freytag, Katharina Knop-Huelss, Adrian Meier, Leonard Reinecke, Dorothée Hefner, Christoph Klimmt, Peter Vorderer, Permanently Online—Always Stressed Out? The Effects of Permanent Connectedness on Stress Experiences, Human Communication Research. https://doi.org/10.1093/hcr/hqaa014

You can download the paper here.


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