Too much of a good thing.

I remember, many years ago now, when I was first issued a Blackberry device by my employer. I traveled frequently, around North America and Europe, and would spend a week or more out of the office in any given month. So, the Blackberry made sense. I said at the time, “The good news is that I can stay in contact with my office and the authors I work with from anywhere at any time. That’s also the bad news.”

Communication technology has advanced to the point that, in most of the developed world, and increasingly in developing countries, we are always “plugged in.” Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that “down time,” a critical ingredient in avoiding stress and burnout is becoming harder to attain.

A recent article by Yiting Sun in MIT Technology Review described the explosive growth of the app WeChat by schools in China. WeChat is being used for everything from distributing and submitting homework, to making announcements about important dates, to posting examples of outstanding work for all to see. It links parents, students and teachers in an ubiquitous web of communication…and that’s the problem.

In a recent professional development discussion, my colleagues and administrators were discussing the increased incidence of anxiety and stress-related absences among our students. One of the general points of agreement was that one of the causes of this increased stress was that students are constantly connected. Social media apps that allow and encourage high volumes of postings, status updates, and submissions of photos or video are encroaching on what little free time our busy students have these days.

Now, consider the ramifications of adding a constant link to school, teachers, and school work. As one Chinese official puts in in Sun’s article, “It infringes on students’ privacy and affects the development of their character.”

Giving students, parents, and instructors the ability to communicate more conveniently seems like a great idea. We must take care, however, that we are not turning a convenience into a burden.

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