Jentrie Hales, community advocate, @techhealthyfamily
When you consider all of the many conversations and interactions you have, it’s fair to say that many of them happen virtually: A text to a friend to check in about carpool, an email to a coworker that begins with, “I hope this message finds you well,” and not to mention the several calls a day that you receive about your “car’s extended warranty.” Virtual communication has changed the way we communicate as a society and can often be more convenient than having a face-to-face conversation, but it’s also more convenient to go through the fast food drive thru lane for dinner and it’s easier to turn a screen on to entertain your child. While many things are being replaced by convenience, having face-to- face interaction should remain a priority in our lives when possible. Just because something is easier, doesn’t replace the meaning of the experience.
Although face-to-face communication is more work, there are many benefits that come from that added effort. Here are three.
1. Face-to-face communication leaves less room for miscommunication. For starters, about 90% of in-person communication is non- verbal. There is only so much that can be communicated with emojis and limited characters. Emotions like sarcasm get missed without the added help of non- verbal cues.
2. Face-to-face communication promotes empathy. Research shows that when you make eye contact with someone, the limbic mirror system activates. So, if your eyes are communicating joy, their neurons will also fire to feel joy. When emotional states are shared, empathy is increased. Seeing other people’s facial expressions in real time also helps us to understand people’s genuine feelings. The more practice we have with this, the better we can be attuned to the feelings of those around us.
3. Having in-person friends can make our bodies more resilient. In a study completed with women diagnosed with breast cancer, it was found that a woman was four times as likely to survive the disease if she had a strong network of friends she saw in real life versus if her friends were primarily on social media. Adults with strong in-person connections also have a reduced risk of other significant health problems like high blood pressure, obesity, and depression.
If the benefits from face-to-face interactions are clear, why do we revert to online communication if we can help it? I recently asked a group of high schoolers what they thought about this. Here are some of their responses.
• Online communication makes it easier to avoid sounding clumsy when you try to articulate your thoughts.
• Any uncomfortable feeling can be masked with lots of emojis.
• You can express hurtful comments without seeing the other person’s immediate reaction.
All of these responses allude that online communication can help us escape the sometimes-difficult emotions that come with having vulnerable conversations in real life. And while they are indeed uncomfortable, these face-to-face experiences are necessary and add value to our lives. Face-to-face contact is not just icing in the cake, it is the cake.
While face-to-face communication is clearly important, that doesn’t make technology bad. They can both exist in a balanced way. Here are a few ideas of how to make them both conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
• Be mindful of when it is appropriate to communicate via screens or in person. Just because you might be disappointing someone doesn’t mean that the message should not be delivered in person where there is room for conversation.
• For every time you communicate online, try to match it with a thoughtful face-to-face interaction.
• When having an in-person conversation, take the electronics out of the equation all together. Leave it put away or in another area to avoid distraction.
Jentrie Hales is a community advocate with five years of experience empowering parents and children in different settings. She has been invited into classrooms, youth groups, and parent groups throughout the Cache Valley to speak about healthy relationships with tech and professionally mentors families that feel overwhelmed with managing the tech in their home. Follow her on Instagram @techhealthyfam or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.