Digital availability expectations need to change

Digital availability expectations need to change

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

With instant messaging, society often expects people to reply the moment their phone gets a text. However, there needs to be an understanding that digital availability does not mean availability 24/7. 

In the digital world, there are unspoken social norms people follow. Replying instantly means you like someone while taking a few hours to respond means that you are not interested. Leaving someone “on read” is considered rude and many people speculate what it means for someone to not reply or take longer to do so.

When someone speaks to you in person, social norms consider it rude not to reply. However, the digital world is different. 

In an interview with BBC, a professor of social psychology said the digital environment has changed so rapidly that human minds are unable to adapt to the new shifts in communication. 

Before the internet, all people had were phone lines, letters and in-person meet-ups. Now, people can talk with anyone from any part of the world in less than a second. Digital social rules are hazy, if not nonexistent.

Additionally, digital communication means people can have multiple conversations at once with various other people. This can be overwhelming. This leads to viewing digital communication as a burden rather than a helpful tool to help people connect with others. 

For example, when employees transitioned to remote work during the pandemic, this highlighted issues regarding work and personal time. With people working from home, many may find it difficult to separate professional life and personal life. This isn’t a good thing. 

In a recent study, researchers found that when people were called to work outside of their job hours, it led to dissatisfaction with both their professional and personal life. This heightened during the pandemic because families had to manage their working hours. Many also had to help their children with their online school. 

With that in mind, there should be a re-evolution of digital availability norms. This will create a space that respects people’s boundaries and time. 

“I think if I had more boundaries [around digital availability] it would be better,” said public policy freshman JP Moreno. “Especially with my parents. I love them, but there are times where I don’t want my phone near me or don’t want to be paying attention to texts. Sometimes they have a hard time understanding that.”

The re-evaluation of digital norms should start small. People shouldn’t expect texts back right away, even if it’s from a loved one. Employers should also expect employees to log off work emails after their shift. 

A text not being answered does not mean a person is angry or upset. If anything, the person might be busy or not have the energy to respond. Whatever the reason is, there should be respect for it. 

The way the digital world has shifted over the past two decades has caused communication devices to change, therefore, the expectations of how people communicate should change as well. 

Cindy Rivas Alfaro is a journalism freshman who can be reached at [email protected]

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