Studies by the Pew Research Center and Common Sense Media suggest that constant connectivity through messaging apps can lead to increased digital distraction, potentially affecting cognitive abilities and focus among young individuals.
Research heavily covered in the journal Computers in Human Behavior highlights a potential link between heavy use of messaging apps like WhatsApp and shortened attention spans, which may impact intellectual engagement and learning.
There’s also a negative impact on memory. Some studies (check out the journal Memory) suggest that constant notifications and interruptions from messaging apps may negatively affect working memory, which is crucial for intellectual tasks.
Here’s my experience in the 13-14 years of using WhatsApp:
1. The medium is tailored for short-form communication, so there is great pressure to instantly react and take a “quick call”.
2. So, there is no discussion on the nuances, a critical peg for creative organisations. Ideating, tossing an idea back and forth, making it richer, is difficult. Over time, it is embedded in the organisational culture and becomes an SOP — no discussion, only the final go-to-market execution.
3. There is often a tendency to quickly agree with anyone senior, usually the boss. Over time, the system encourages showing work *only* to the boss, bypassing other stakeholders in the system who may be able to add value.
If that’s not enough, consider the following research findings.
A lot of young people are coming into the Indian workforce and starting to get the impression organisations are run on WhatsApp, everything happens on instant chat. No discussion, no ideation required. While certain aspects of work, for example daily reporting, need WhatsApp and other instant messaging apps, others do not — and, in fact, are dangerous. They can be intellectually debilitating for a young person. My fear is these young people will be replaced by AI bots as in a few years they will not be able to think or ideate. Or even have basic people skills.
What is the solution? I think one should try ones’ best to meet face-to-face and talk, share ideas and take feedback. Reiterate, get back. When that’s not possible, at least meet on Zoom/Teams or even have a phone call. Using WhatsApp properly involves maintaining a healthy balance between staying connected and avoiding the negative behavioural fallouts associated with excessive use.
I’ll end with some tips to ensure that you use WhatsApp and WhatsApp doesn’t use you:
Set usage boundaries: Avoid constant monitoring of the app throughout the day to prevent digital overload. You’re not on call, you can prioritise your responses.
Prioritise face-to-face communication: Reserve important or sensitive conversations for face-to-face interactions when possible. Keep it meaningful.
Create group chat guidelines: Don’t be too available on WhatsApp. If you’re part of group chats, establish and communicate guidelines for communication within the group.
Limit work-related messages after-hours: Set boundaries and clearly define when work-related discussions should take place and when they can be postponed until the next business day.
Regularly review privacy settings: Check and update your privacy settings to control who can see your profile information, status and the last-seen timestamp.
Practice mindful messaging: Before firing off your opinion, consider whether the information is necessary and whether it’s the right platform for communication. Avoid forwards, even if you’re an RWA uncle.
Be respectful of others’ time: Avoid sending messages during odd hours unless it’s an emergency, and be considerate of different time zones.
Balance digital and offline activities: Get a life. Spend quality time engaging in real-world experiences, hobbies and social interactions without the constant use of messaging apps.
Finally, use the desktop version of Whatsapp in office. You will end up using it less and slower. Use mobile WhatsApp only while travelling.
Don’t be stupid. Stop trying to launch your career on WhatsApp, won’t happen. Meet people, talk, have discussions. Over a coffee.
(Shubho Sengupta is a digital marketer with an analogue ad agency past. He can be found @shubhos on X)