Expectations for Instant Availability

Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

With the speed and convenience of modern technology, we have come to rely on virtual communication now more than ever, especially due to the stay-at-home regulations of the pandemic. As the swiftness of technological communication has increased, however, so have expectations for the promptness of our response times. But simply because technology has enabled us to fire off messages in the span of a second doesn’t necessarily mean we should be expected to. This article will examine the circumstantial factors that induce technology burnout while discussing strategies to prevent it.

telepressure-induced burnout

The pressure we feel to respond to messages immediately after we receive them is a phenomenon dubbed “telepressure.” [1] This compulsion to dispatch speedy replies is a product of both society’s gravitation towards forms of high-speed communication and our perception of those we communicate with as being impatient for our responses. Because digital avenues that allow for instant communication like text, email, direct messages, and so on have become so heavily relied-upon, there are unrealistic expectations to render ourselves constantly available, ready to respond to messages immediately upon reception.

Virtual communication platforms that host multiple workspaces, like Slack or Discord, for example, can be sources of overwhelming pressure just from the sheer amount of notifications they send out. All this pressure can greatly heighten communication-related stress and can even lead to burnout, where we feel the desire to withdraw from or even avoid online engagements. [1]

According to Northern Illinois University psychology professor Dr. Larissa Barber, college students are one of the groups most highly affected by telepressure. Because we are so heavily engaged in social media and other forms of telecommunication and spend most of our time attached to devices that facilitate them, we feel it is expected of us to keep up. [1]

One third-year UCLA Communications student said, “I feel like I always have to be on my phone for the fear of missing out on something important, which can sometimes distract me from living in the present.”

A fourth-year UCLA Human Biology and Society student added: “Because of the pandemic, there’s this pressure to be on devices at all times, which sometimes makes me feel guilty for taking breaks. I tell myself to unplug and relax, but even after I’ve logged off, I’m thinking about what I have to do the next time I log on.”

On top of the pressure we already experience as university students with multiple commitments, telepressure can lead to negative effects on our schoolwork or other activities. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, we can become distracted by the constant influx of messages and the pressure to respond to them. If we feel burnt out, we may also begin to withdraw from friends and social groups.

Sage Friedman via Unsplash

Sage Friedman via Unsplash

read receipts and why they can be a source of stress

The utilization of “read,” “opened,” or “last seen” receipts in text messages, apps like Snapchat or Instagram, or other direct-messaging platforms only makes things worse. Knowing that someone else has seen that we have read and received their latest message can increase the compulsion we feel to respond to them quickly. Take Instagram direct messages, for example. When you receive DMs and know you are not able to respond right away, you might refrain from clicking on the message until you are able to respond so the sender cannot see that you have opened it. By perpetuating expectations for instant availability, read receipts undermine the benefit of virtual communication methods allowing for non-real-time communication.

“These are technologies we call asynchronous,” says Dr. Barber. They are supposed to be answered at the other person’s convenience.1 Think about the forms of communication that these technologies have replaced. Before emails, before text messages and DMs, people relied on letters and telegrams. These took weeks, days, and hours to send. Nobody got a notification when the other person received their message, and several more weeks, days, and hours passed before they could even begin to expect a response. Even phone calls were not so instantaneous. If you missed someone on the phone, you would leave a voicemail and expect a call back when it was convenient for the other person. Now when our phone calls go to voicemail, we shoot off a text instead and get to see the exact time that the other person sees it.

Read receipts, while a helpful tool in confirming the reliability of communication platforms, can serve as an additional source of stress for those already overwhelmed by the pressures of telecommunication. A recent study by Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Germany surveyed a group of WhatsApp users and found that those who turned their read receipts on had higher perceived stress levels. [2] Several UCLA students have had similar experiences.

A second-year Political Science student shares, “Read receipts stress me out because they make me feel like I have to respond to messages right away, or if someone reads my message and doesn’t respond, my anxiety kicks in and my brain automatically starts coming up with a million different scenarios of what went wrong.”

“I always turn my read receipts off,” says an anonymous first-year Global Studies student. “As an over-thinker, sometimes I need a little bit of time to think of a response, and I don’t want people to think I’m ignoring them if they see that I’ve read their message but still haven’t responded.”

Christian Wiediger via Unsplash

Christian Wiediger via Unsplash

tactics to alleviate stress

1. Turn off read receipts, if possible

While it is definitely important to maintain social connection, especially during these times of isolation, knowing that people can see the exact time you read their messages can cause too much stress for some people. Turning off read receipts can help you maintain a sense of privacy and release some of the pressure of responding right away, giving you time to thoroughly consider the message and create a thoughtful response.

2. Utilize “do not disturb” features

The WhatsApp study also discovered that message notifications (pings, flashes, etc.) can amplify telepressure. If there is a period of time where you know you aren’t going to be responding to any messages and seeing notifications will only stress you out more, utilizing the “do not disturb” feature on devices or “mute” button for group chats can be a great way to help alleviate some of that stress. It’s a good idea to add important contacts to your emergency contacts list, so in case of an actual emergency, they will still be able to contact you even while the do not disturb feature is turned on. This is also a really useful feature for when you need to focus on a certain task, like studying or sleeping!

3. Take advantage of reaction buttons

If you are feeling too burnt out to craft a response, feel free to acknowledge people’s messages by hitting the reaction button above their texts! With heart, thumbs up, thumbs down, “ha-ha”, exclamation mark, and question mark reaction options, the reaction feature allows you to express how you feel about someone’s message without having to respond in words. This is also a great way to end a conversation without making the other person feel like you are ignoring them.

Womanizer WOW Teach via Unsplash

Womanizer WOW Teach via Unsplash

4. Communicate

If you are going through a state where your response times might be slower than usual, reach out and let people know. Don’t feel the need to apologize — there is nothing wrong with taking time for yourself — but make sure to communicate that with friends and loved ones so they aren’t worried if you do take a bit longer than usual to respond. The people who love and care about you will most likely understand!

5. Set reminders

Oftentimes it can be easy to forget about messages altogether if we read them and choose not to respond right away. If you receive a professional message that necessitates a prompt reply but do not feel up to responding right that minute, set reminders for yourself so you don’t forget. If you are someone who finds it hard not to constantly check your phone, utilize reminders to help distinguish set times of the day to check your devices and respond to messages without having to experience constant stress!

6. Remember, it is likely that the person putting the most stress on you is you!

Although seemingly stemming from external expectations, the pressure to respond to others right away is usually pressure we place on ourselves! We psych ourselves up with our perceptions of other people and what we think they expect from us in terms of communication without considering that perhaps they are feeling just as burnt out as we are. In my experience, the people I communicate with are most often in the same boat, and they are usually more than understanding when I need to take a bit of time to respond to them.

Final Takeaways

Although telepressure and expectations for instant availability can be challenging, especially in the ultra-digital world we live in, the tactics above can help alleviate some of that stress to improve our focus and performance in both our education and our social lives, elevating our overall well-being. It may take a few tries to figure out what works best for you; just remember that it is completely okay to set these boundaries and take necessary steps to create the healthiest environment for you!

And remember, you don’t have to wait until you are completely burnt out to utilize these strategies! Although it might seem that the world revolves around our screens these days, taking some time to unplug is a valid and necessary component of self-care. Preemptively managing your technology-induced stress can not only help you avoid experiencing burnout in the first place but can also help you to be more present and engaged IRL!


  1. “The Pressure You Feel to Quickly Respond to Messages Is Probably Causing Burnout.” Chicago Inno. (2016).

  2. “WhatsApp and Wellbeing: A study on WhatsApp usage, communication quality and stress.” BCS Learning and Development. (2017).

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