Streaming stress: Relax, it is just a six-second delay

Is your bank or your boss stressing you out? That’s to be expected. But waiting for a video to load on your phone? Apparently today that causes more stress than queuing or solving a maths problem.

According to an Ericsson Mobility Report, just a six-second delay in your video buffering when you’re in a hurry can cause your heart rate to rise by more than a third.

Ericsson measured the electrical activity in the brain, eye movements and pulse to determine the stress levels of a group of 30 volunteers aged 18-52 from Copenhagen, Denmark when exposed to delays in loading video or web pages on a smartphone.

They were fitted with eye-tracking glasses and EEG electrode headsets, and instructed to complete 18 tasks in 20 minutes on an Android smartphone.

Ericsson found that the test already put participants’ stress levels 13 per cent higher than normal. A two-second delay in loading a YouTube video increased stress by three percentage points, and further delays or pauses once the video had started to stream could push it up another 15 per cent.

That meant that a perceived ‘big’ delay of six seconds could make the heart pump 38 per cent faster – equivalent to the anxiety in taking a maths test or watching a horror movie alone and greater than the stress experienced queuing up in a shop.

The National’s Workplace Doctor, Alex Davda, a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, says we now face more breadth of pressure than ever before – the cumulative build-up of chronic stress in our day-to-day lives.

“We have work, family, finances and now the pressure of being constantly connected all the time,” he says. “If we don’t reply to emails immediately we are seen as being unresponsive. But our primate brains can’t tell the difference; we are still hardwired to experience the same stress response as when we were cave people being chased by lions, tigers or bears.

“The fight or flight response that used to be important for our survival is now set off by seemingly trivial tasks and activities.”

q&a buffer zone from streaming stress

Suzanne Locke expands on the issue of ‘streaming stress’:

What’s the impact of streaming delays on telecom providers?

According to Ericsson, the Net Promoter Score of an operator increased significantly (by 4.5 points) if there were no delays, but dropped four points with just moderate time-to-content or buffering delays. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) gauges consumer loyalty by asking a single question on a 0-10 scale, “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?” and creating an overall score for the business based on the answers.

Is the problem growing?

By 2021 there are expected to be a further three billion smartphone subscriptions globally and Rafiah Ibrahim, head of Ericsson for the Middle East and Africa, says 90 per cent of the world’s population will be covered by mobile broadband networks within six years. That’s a lot more people due to get streaming stress.

But are we really getting more stressed?

Maybe not – at least in the US. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey, on a scale of 1 to 10 the average American considers his or her stress level a 4.9, down from 5.1 in 2013 and 6.2 in 2007 (the first time the association ran the survey).

Is smartphone addiction real?

Mr Davda says it is, and that it is “extremely” dangerous. “This addiction is not only constantly triggering our stress response but also distracting us from the all-important rest and recovery that we need to rebuild ourselves after stressful days, hijacking our sleep and keeping us glued to our devices instead of exercising, having a good conversation or reading a book.”

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