When chatting apps can be overwhelming

By Quynh Nguyen   August 25, 2022 | 10:03 pm PT
When chatting apps can be overwhelming
It was past 11 p.m., but Hong Vy's mobile phone screen was still lit up as notifications from nearly 20 work-related and personal chat groups kept pouring in.

For Vy, a content creator for an advertising agency in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, receiving work-related messages until midnight has been an inevitable part of life for four years.

Sometimes these messages make her feel overwhelmed. But the 28-year-old still has to read the entire conversation for fear of missing important information.

Vy receives messages from chat applications or social media throughout the day. "Sometimes I spend an entire morning reading and replying to these messages," she says.

When on a plane or at a meeting and turns off her mobile phone and then turns it back on, there is a veritable torrent of messages, which even causes the phone to lag.

Her job requires her to keep in touch with many people. For each project, she has to participate in around five chat groups with colleagues, supervisors and customers via Facebook Messenger, Zalo, Telegram, Viber, and Skype.

She currently manages three projects.

To read and reply to chat group messages takes people a lot of time, which affects both their professional and personal lives. Photo: VnExpress/M.P

To read and reply to chat group messages takes people a lot of time, which affects both their professional and personal lives. Photo by VnExpress/M.P

According to a report by a Vietnamese social media platform, in the first quarter of 2021 it had 64 million users with 1.7 billion messages being sent every day.

People like Hong Vy in the 18-35 age group contribute to making Vietnam a powerhouse in terms of social media and messaging app users.

According to statistics from NapoleonCat (a tool for measuring social media indicators), Vietnam has nearly 76 million Facebook users, including 54 million who regularly use its Messenger chat application. This number is the fifth highest in the world after only India, Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines.

According to Viber, it has more than 30 million Vietnamese users.

Telegram does not have exact figures, but is considered a "rising star" among chat applications in Vietnam.

Thanh Thuy, 35, is a mother of two in Hanoi. In addition to being in dozens of work-related chat groups, she is also a member of seven personal groups, including with her children’s teachers and other parents, residents of her apartment block, the building management committee, and households on her floor.

Thuy has FOMO (fear of missing out), and so does not dare turn off notifications or leave any chat group. She often reads all her messages during break time.

She frets: "Maybe there is information related to me in these conversations. I don't want to be on the outside. However, I don't want to spend all day reading messages, either."

There are many people like Vy and Thuy, overwhelmed by chat groups.

Assoc Prof Dr Nguyen Duc Loc, director of the Institute of Social Life, says work-related and personal chat groups are common, especially with technology and social media growing so rapidly.

However, he warns of certain downsides to this phenomenon such as blurring the boundaries between work and personal life and causing a fear of being isolated at the workplace.

Spending too much time chatting online also often affects family happiness.

Vy admits that she often has to work overtime because she spends too much time responding to messages, including non-work-related ones.

Her personal life is deeply affected as she explains: "Every time I am online, my boss thinks I'm available to work, regardless of what time it is."

The stereotypes that are forming around online messages stress her. For instance, if she gets a message but does not read it and respond quickly, she fears she may be considered unprofessional or disrespectful to her boss.

"That's why I always feel overwhelmed by work and ... message."

Justin Santamaria, the former Apple engineer, who created the iMessage messaging application, mentions this phenomenon in Wired magazine.

He says chat tools make people more impolite.

"People used to be careful to start with a phrase like 'No rush, answer when you can', or when making a phone call, callers often ask: ‘Are you free?’ But now we just send messages without thinking of recipients."

Chatting constantly also means Thuy is often late in picking up her children from school, her house is messy and she burns food sometimes.

This upsets her husband, who even suspects his wife was unfaithful.

"I and my husband often argue because of this. We did not want to talk to each other and intended to divorce,"

At the other end of this spectrum is Trang Ha, 27, of Hanoi, who wants her colleagues to add her to every secret chat group, fearful of becoming an outsider and isolated.

"I know many colleagues in my department have secret chat groups to share confidential information. Sometimes I see some colleagues suddenly looking at each other and laughing. I'm always the last one to know what is happening."

Her fear of isolation and being bad-mouthed is so great in fact that she goes out of her way to please her colleagues.

"I will help them with whatever they ask. I think when they trust me, I will be added to their chat groups and I will no longer be an outsider."

The flip side of being in many chat groups is the risk of accidentally leaking confidential information.

Gia Bao, 30, once sent his website design to a wrong chat group, and he had his idea promptly stolen by former colleagues.

They quickly submitted the design to their boss, while Bao was unable to prove it was his. It forced him to make an alternative design in a rush.

He says: "If I had sent my design via email with a higher security level, I would not have made such a mistake. No matter how convenient chat groups are, they do have disadvantages."

Nguyen Hung Vi, a former lecturer at the University of Social Sciences & Humanities, Vietnam National University, says the Covid-19 pandemic facilitated chat groups, which became useful for working remotely.

"But when a job is, the group needs to be disbanded. Members of chat groups should be encouraged to leave their groups or set up rules for sharing information."

Thus, instead of blaming technology, people must find their own way to deal with it and not let it affect their work performance or quality of life.

Gia Han, 28, is the head of product at a company. She is in more than 20 chat groups, but never feels overwhelmed by messages. She labels the groups as very important, important and unimportant, and responds to messages based on priority levels.

She turns on notifications from the more important groups and turns them off in non-work chat groups she has with friends and colleagues.

"It helps me not to be terrorized by online messages, avoid small talk during working hours and improve my work efficiency. I don’t have to work overtime."

Loc says some companies, realizing chat groups not only distract their employees during working hours but also increase the risk of data leaks, come up with solutions such as installing intranet systems and even ban the use of apps like Facebook and Zalo.

Vy is gradually creating for herself the habit of turning off chat group notifications and not replying to messages from friends and relatives during office hours, and refusing to take on office tasks after working hours.

"I must take these measures to protect myself."

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