Text vs. Talk: Human Connection Beats Technology Every Time

We’ve all heard it: Technology is consuming our lives. Though the admonition seems to lump all digital practices together, where it is particularly true in our daily lives over the last decade is the shift from verbal interactions to emails and texts. This, unfortunately, is undeniable.

While studies show our phones are rarely out of reach, increasingly we seem to be using them less for phone calls and far more for texts. In 2015, the Pew Research Center determined that 97 percent of Americans use texting at least once a day on their cell phones. However, more striking, according to Connect Mogul only 43 percent of smartphone owners are using them to make calls, while over 70 percent are relying on them for texting instead of actual conversation.

The consequences are an unmistakable change in our communication behavior and preferences. The tendency to shy away from face to face connections and, instead, substitute passive exchanges is widespread and is affecting all demographics, from Boomers to Millennials. Obviously, this makes forming true human connections, whether personal or professional, an ever-increasing challenge.

In the office, we’ve grown accustomed to emailing or even texting our colleagues and only, in an “emergency”, picking up the phone. However, and unfortunately, we are rarely walking across the hall to simply engage the discussion.  In a world where productivity has never been more important, we are now choosing the least productive means possible to even have conversations… much less resolve issues.

The effects of our increasingly digital behavior are resulting in the obvious: Reduced social skills, comfort and confidence when interacting directly with others. And, all at a time when those attributes are even more critical to improving our station in life (whether it be improving our potential for the next promotion or simply carrying on a meaningful conversation with our friends).

Renowned cultural analyst Sherry Turkle has long maintained that technology is reshaping our brains and our ability to emotionally and physically connect with others. She believes that true empathy requires the capacity for solitude and our stream of distractions prevents deep thinking.

This want to be in constant contact with our friends/co-workers, instead of simply communicating face to face when a conversation is needed, is simply unnecessary distraction. As she states, “If you can’t be alone with your own thoughts, you can’t really hear what others have to say.”

The distractions we now require prevent the deep feeling that lets us connect emotionally with others. As she urges in her Ted Talk, the only solution is reclaiming face-to-face conversation.

How do you make a change in this behavior today?

Set the example: If you are in a place capable of setting the tone, refuse to conduct the “across the hall” conversation via email or text. Walk over to the colleague, friend or family member and simply have a dialogue. If necessary, even acknowledge the reason you are doing so: “John, this is silly to send emails across the hall, let’s talk about it.”

Make it interesting: Even the briefest of exchanges can be had pleasantly and with energy, confidence and, when necessary, with a purposeful tone. Your body language, eye contact and a smile will be well received. It is far more difficult (read: Impossible) to accurately convey tone digitally.

Focus on the reward: Often a five-minute conversation will save you hours of inefficient emails or subsequent meetings to straighten out miscommunication. And, if during disagreement, you will naturally be reminded of your goodwill towards others by communicating in person rather than the cloak of anonymity in a text or email. The human connection will nearly always benefit conversation/agreement as opposed to a seemingly sterile digital exchange.

Innately, we all prefer being a part of something bigger… that feeling that we belong in an environment that limits our vulnerability and risk. Unfortunately, these desires are ultimately in conflict with life in a digital world and, increasingly, only leave us feeling more alone when we limit human interaction to the back side of our monitors/phones. Real human connection should be the goal. Technology should only be regarded to that end in helping us improve our personal interconnectivity. Your day-to-day interactions will be more meaningful, concise and, who knows, likely more productive!