Technology makes communicating effortless and convenient. When used in moderation as a supplement to offline conversations, virtual tools are an excellent way to dissolve distance or schedule-related barriers. Those with a variety of limitations have the unprecedented ability to reach others outside of their immediate environment. Yet, online relationships can never replace offline interaction. Do you set aside time for family and friends to have memorable face-to-face conversations, whether it is during a walk or over a meal? Research indicates that this is an integral part of our physical, mental, and emotional health.
The Walton Tribune cited a study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign and George Mason University. 200 students were assigned to groups to perform tasks that could only be accomplished through teamwork. Participants working face-to-face showed more cooperation than those using instant messaging and videoconferencing, which increased the likelihood of lying. Study co-author, Gregory Northcraft, said when interacting face-to-face, “you are getting more information from the people around you, which is allowing you to trust them more.” He said that a mere 7% of communication concerning feelings or attitudes is conveyed through the actual words spoken. The remainder of the meaning comes from nonverbal cues and tone. Therefore, unless you are Hemingway, communication solely through the written word is less effective.
A study covered in the Wall Street Journal revealed that virtual multitasking, such as texting and checking Facebook at the same time, is detrimental to the social and emotional development of preteen girls. Stanford University examined digital multitasking and time spent in front of a screen. High levels of multitasking and screen time were associated with lower levels of self-confidence and social skills, feelings of being abnormal, and a lack of sleep. The more face-to-face time that preteen girls spent with family and peers, the greater their emotional and social health. In addition, when friends and family were regularly glued to their smartphone during interactions with the subjects, the preteen girls felt less emotionally engaged.
When relying on technology to convey a message, you cannot intervene quickly to remedy misunderstandings by the reader. There is always a chance they are internalizing your message in a way that you didn’t intend. Face-to-face conversations allow for body language, tone, inflection, and facial expressions to reinforce a message. Another benefit is instant feedback. Questions can be asked in a timely manner and ideas are exchanged instantly. This is particularly important when asking someone to complete a task.
The author of a study published in The Canadian Journal of Communication said, “Three features are fully present only in face-to-face dialogue: unrestricted verbal expression, meaningful non-verbal acts such as gestures and facial displays, and instantaneous collaboration between speaker and listener…face-to-face dialogue is the most natural, practiced, and preferred form of human communication.” When face time is lacking or non-existent, our psychological health suffers. Individuals feel disconnected from relationships and society as a whole.
A 24/7 multi-media experience can also lead to obesity when taken to the extreme. There has been a decline in physical fitness and more and more careers involve a full day of sitting. Movement is one of the most important necessities for physical health. Top that with the stress of keeping up with messages on multiple devices, and a variety of ailments and conditions can potentially develop. This information overflow is distracting and results in shorter attention spans.
There’s no need to go off the grid and shun technology. Instead, control your technology use instead of letting it control you. Spending time with friends and family and giving them your undivided attention will enhance your sense of wellbeing. By unplugging regularly and having meaningful conversations we can strengthen our relationships.