Face-to-face communication is moving ever further into the background due to the age of the smartphone, Facebook and tweets. It is being pushed out by messaging apps like WhatsApp, Messenger and even Instagram and Snapchat (which are increasingly used as messaging services, particularly among younger users). But who is responsible? Either it’s the billion-dollar CEOs of social media companies, or it comes down to us… Neither of the parties is innocent. Both contributed to the fact that face-to-face communication has become less important; that it is now almost old-fashioned. Even with social media’s user-friendly interface design, we users still remain at blame for this situation. We are the ones who send up to 42 billion messages daily via the world’s most popular messenger, WhatsApp. This message tornado, which draws its circles over the entire blue planet, partly consists of empty phrases like “wyd” (What are you doing?) or “smh” (Shaking my head). I would not call them messages or words, let alone a conversation. Paradoxically, I often witness that many real-life conversations between close friends come to a standstill when they turn away from interpersonal, emotional communication to communicate online with other people who are not present.
In the end, you are meeting up with friends and then virtually interact with those who you are not meeting with. Either my friends have learned how to communicate telepathically during the day and at work, or today’s generation actually prefers online conversations. But why is that?
No pressure in the digital world
Apps like WhatsApp offer users features that interpersonal communication cannot keep up with: sending photos and videos; emojis voicing digital emotions so that at two in the morning, you can share the results of a football game with your friends. But why not at least give them a phone call, since this trains listening-thinking-response principle? In a broad perspective, this applies to messaging services as well. However, this also reveals the main reason why people nowadays tend to look at their phone instead of continuing a lost conversation while hanging out with friends: No pressure. When you receive a text message, you have much more time to think about it and respond. There is no listener looking at you critically because you take twenty minutes to answer “What are you doing today?” Online, you can answer after a couple of hours or even not at all. This is a great relief to our brains, and there is room to think about your response when the entire circle of friends has become quiet. You can look for a socket nearby while they find themselves in their seats.
But I do not want to be too critical. No, online messaging has its pros, too. We can now carry ballpoint pens, stationery, mailboxes and post office vehicles in our pocket; communication is easier than ever before. Everyone can write to everyone. During an emergency, you are always accessible wherever you are, ideally with full battery or a power outlet nearby. You can, therefore, react as quickly as possible to such an emergency.
Back to the beginning
Despite the admittedly positive aspects, replacing face-to-face communication with digital communication is clearly taking it too far. Unfortunately, there is no excuse for maintaining 24-hour communication with friends over absolute nonsense, and then finding no conversation when actually meeting in real life. In this case, communication has failed – and ironically, this is because of the devices that should make it easier for us to communicate with each other.
Nevertheless, WhatsApp’s number of users continues to rise, power outlets in bars and cafes are more popular than ever before, the message tornado keeps on going, made up of demanding and important texts on the one hand, but on the other hand with texts consisting of less information and content than casual small talk about the weather. Perhaps it is time for us to realize this dilemma more clearly. Instant messaging services are a useful way to keep in touch with family and friends – especially over long distances. If you meet in person, however, leave your mobile phone in your bag because no device can truly replace face-to-face communication – thank goodness!
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