The ease of online communication nowadays means that more of our social interactions are moving online. But are we missing out on important face-to-face interactions? We summarise the research comparing online to face-to-face communication.
Easiness vs. Happiness.
Online communication is quick and easy. It’s particularly important for people who live away from family and friends. However, research suggests that people tend to be happier after face-to-face compared to online interactions . Researchers in China found that face-to-face time with friends and family was associated with better quality of life but this was not true for time spent interacting with others online . While social media helps us to stay in touch it needs to be supplemented with face-to-face time to really improve mood.
Efficiency vs Impressions.
When it comes to problem-solving in work online communication through email or message boards is particularly useful. Indeed, research on college students found that problem-solving online was more efficient than face-to-face . Yet online communication, particularly in a work context, can sound cold and lead to misunderstandings. Researchers comparing interactions between the same people online and face-to-face found that people meeting face-to-face formed more positive impressions of their conversational partner . If you need a quick solution online discussion may suit but if it’s a tricky interaction or a sensitive business partnership a coffee may be better.
Satisfaction vs Closeness.
Online interaction, for example through Facebook, helps to nurture relationships leaving people feeling more socially connected . That said, face-to-face communication leads to an additional feeling of closeness that online interaction does not have . If you’re already close with somebody online communication may not affect the quality of your interaction but a new relationship probably needs to be nurtured with face-to-face time.
Online communication is often denigrated as a poor replacement of face-to-face time. For most people, however, online communication is on top of, not instead of, face-to-face time. In fact, research finds that social network quality is more important and social network quantity. Nurturing those relationships that make you feel happy, supported and satisfied is important whether it’s online, offline or, even better, a combination of both.
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