How Important is Face-to-Face Communication in the Computer Age?

By JoJo Tabares

This is the Information Age where instead of walking down the street to talk to a neighbor, we email them.  In order not to spend a half an hour chatting with a chatty friend, we text them.  In lieu of spending time with extended family, we catch up with them on Facebook.   How important is face to face or at least voice to voice communication in the Computer Age?  Are our relationships missing something?  Have we “technologized” ourselves into a nameless, faceless communication pattern that leaves our relationships lacking?   I think we have!

Technology is impersonal and people still long for the personal touch.  How special would you feel if your family didn’t get together at a party for your birthday?  What if, instead of a cake and presents and a walk down memory lane, they texted you their birthday greetings?  What are we missing by spending virtual time with friends?  Researchers found that babies in an orphanage who are not touched have social and physical issues.  Humans need that personal touch.  A hug is worth so much more than even a kind word.  Our communication is so much more meaningful when we personalize it and give a human face, the human touch.  “A woman’s touch” is something we all heard about growing up.  Why is a woman’s touch so important?  Because it is filled with personal attention to detail.

Let’s face it, face-to-face communication is still the best way to have a relationship.  Can you imagine how difficult it would be to have a good marriage if you and your spouse were not living together and only communicated over email?  This is why long distance relationships are so difficult.  For the first time in my married life, I am living close to my parents.  It has been such an amazing experience to get to know them all over again.  Oh don’t get me wrong, we would call each week and “catch up”, but it was NOT at all the same.  Why?  Because living close means we can actually get together in person and hug and share a moment.  We actually speak more often about things that really matter.  Can you do that over the phone or through  email?  Yes, but can you do that more easily and effectively in person?  Absolutely!!

Little opportunity exists for extensive dialogue or many questions when we communicate via technology.  How many of you can say your hands get tired when you type?  How many of you limit the number of emails you send because you just don’t want to type all that in.  How many of you don’t text because it’s so much easier to pick up the phone and just talk?  How many characters can you actually get into a text phone message?  If you Twitter, you know that you can only post 140 characters.  Facebook users have a bit more with about 160 characters.  Remember that is 140 CHARACTERS not 140 WORDS!  How much true communication, bonding, or “relationshipping” can you really get in with just 140 characters?

Technology affords us the opportunity to communicate when it’s convenient for US but not necessarily when it’s convenient for the other person.  I remember when my sister and I had opposite schedules and had to communicate by phone when the other wasn’t home.  She’d call me when I was out because it was the only time she had to call.  Then after a few hours or days, I’d call her back when she wasn’t home because that was the only time I had to call her.  We were grateful for the technology that existed at the time so that we could have some way of staying in touch, but would be have much preferred to talk voice to voice?  Most assuredly!  Would we have preferred to speak face-to-face?  You bet your sweet hugs!  Why?  First because it affords us the chance exchange hugs, to see one another’s face and to really ‘be’ with each other.  Secondly, because misunderstandings abound given time between contact through technological devices.

Sometimes she would call in a hurry and misunderstand what I had said and respond accordingly.  Occasionally, I would call in a rush to respond before heading out the door and in my haste, I’d blurt out the wrong information.  So much of that Techno Talking was taken up by correcting misinformation that it was a wonder we stayed in touch at all.

So…When is it best to use technology for communication?  I’d say when you have no other choice!  My daughter is currently 1800 miles away at college.  As much as I’d love to, I cannot see her in person until she gets home for summer vacation.  We phone when we have time to spend talking over all the details of her college experiences and relating what we are each doing and how we feel about that as much as we can.  However, time doesn’t always permit our schedules to coincide.  Often when she has time between classes, I am in the middle of homeschooling her brother or am out with him on a field trip.  When I called her for Resurrection Sunday, she was whizzing her way to an event.  So when I need to ask her if she needs any money or if she needs to tell me when she is out for summer vacation so we can buy her ticket home, we email.  Sometimes we email just to say “I love you!”

Only 7% of our face-to-face communication is in our words.  This means that 93% of face-to-face communication is in our gestures, facial expressions, body language and eye contact which cannot be transmitted through the internet and can only partially be conveyed through the phone.  So face-to-face is the best form of communication—even in the Computer Age and I recommend that to be the best form of communication for spending time, important or difficult topics of conversation.  The second best form of communication is via the phone.  When you cannot be in person, the phone is the next most effective way to communicate.  So then, is it ever more effective to email or text?  Yes!

Texting or email or social networking can be a very effective way to communicate in several situations!  Here are a few.  If you are in need of prayer and have very little time, putting a post out on Facebook can be an excellent way to communicate with all your friends and family in a difficult and busy time.  If you and Aunt Millie don’t see eye to eye about the family event this May, it may be best simply to email her the date and time rather than take the chance and get into a discussion or argument about the location one more time on the phone.  Texting is perfect if you don’t have any time to talk but 13 of your friends are waiting for the date at time of the next Bible study.  Email is a perfect way to share a smile when you send out a funny email to family and friends on your email list or when you just want to say, “I’m thinking of you.” Or “I’m praying for you today.”

Now just because email or social networking is less personal than face-to-face conversations or phone calls, doesn’t mean we can’t make our techno communication more personalized!  What can we do to our emails and Facebook posts to give them a more personal feel?  Here are a few ideas:

1. :D Smiley faces are always a great way to make an impersonal post more personal.
2. A picture is worth a thousand smiles!  Post pictures on your Facebook wall or in your email to Aunt Sally!
3. Tailor your message to your audience.  If you are emailing Uncle Joe, make sure to use terms and examples he would appreciate.  He’s a fisherman, you know, so use some fishing metaphors!
4. Send a personal email or Facebook message whenever you can.  Instead of posting to the masses, take a bit of time each week to email Mildred or send a Facebook message just to Bill.  Respond to what is going on in their lives.  Make it personal and specific to their lives. Ask questions!

Technology is a wonderful tool to help us stay in touch with our loved ones, but it shouldn’t take the place of face-to-face communication when it is possible.  Take some time to think about who you can visit this month, who you can call today and who you’d like to send a personal email to, complete with updated pictures of the kids!  Don’t let your relationships become anemic.  Allow them to blossom and grow and, as the years go by, you’ll have incredible memories to sustain you!

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JoJo Tabares holds a degree in Speech Communication, but it is her humorous approach to communication skills which has made her a highly sought-after Christian speaker and writer.  Her articles appear in homeschool publications, such as Homeschool Enrichment Magazine and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, which also endorses her Say What You Mean curricula.  You can also find JoJo on web sites such as Crosswalk.com and Dr.Laura.com.  For more information on communication FUNdamentals and Christian-based communication skills for the whole family, please visit http://www.ArtofEloquence.com

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