The stress of messaging app overload

Thanks to the myriad messaging apps and social media platforms we now have, we're in an era of channel overload. How do all these ways of communicating with one another affect our stress levels and concentration?

Too many apps for that.

How many ways to message is too many? (Adam Killick/CBC)

By Nora Young

There was a time, not that long ago, when mobile communication was easy. You texted or—gasp—called your friends when a message was time sensitive. Otherwise, you'd probably send an email. You might even wait til you got home to do it.

But that was before the explosion of apps for communication and social networking.

WhatsApp. Facebook. WeChat. Twitter. Instagram. Weibo. Snapchat. Hangouts. Slack. Signal. And so on. Chances are, you've got more than one of those apps installed on your smartphone, in addition to its default text messaging app.

And then there are the different schools of thought about what the main communication platform ought to be.

I have friends who SMS instead of using WhatsApp, and even people who are *on* WhatsApp, but only ever send me texts. There are the people who iMessage, who then have to repeat their message to us Android people via text or WhatsApp or email.

There are the swaths of professionals who use LinkedIn messaging, which means, if you don't regularly use LinkedIn, you need to get email notifications pushed to you. I have friends who message me on IG, and people who do even professional communications over Twitter DMs. (And don't get me started on FB Messenger).

And then there's the question of how you *find* that message you have a vague memory of.

Email, for all its glacial sluggishness, is at least searchable. But most of the other ones aren't—the information conveyed seems disposable. Which, of course, can send you down the message rabbit hole again: it's probably faster just to ask the same question again than search for a previous answer.

Sophie Leroy is an assistant professor at the University of Washington (Courtesy of Sophie Leroy)

We used to talk about 'information overload'. But now I think it's more like 'channel overload'.

"The cognitive cost of switching between those apps, and switching away from work or writing or producing something to checking what's going on on WhatsApp, or what's going on on Twitter or responding to a request or question—is really amplifying or increasing the number of time we self interrupt our others are interrupting us," said Sophie Leroy, an assistant business professor at the University of Washington who specializes in how technology affects our attention.

Her advice?

"If you want to contact me during the workday, it's going to be email. And if it's very urgent it's going to be text messages, because outside of that I'm not connected."