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Technology, Communication, and Our Misconceptions


When you want to reach out to people, how do you do it? Before the pandemic, you could meet in person with individuals who lived nearby; that was a rather uncomplicated option (and it will be again one day). And of course, you can touch base by phone, video chat, text, email, or social media, forms of communication that are even more vital in a pandemic. With all of these options before you, which ones are you more likely to choose, and are they serving you and your relationships?


Recently, investigators conducted research that examined precisely this question. Across three studies, they explored how people anticipate feeling based on how they’ll interact with someone, how people’s beliefs about how they’ll feel are related to how they decide to communicate, and how people actually feel when they interact with someone in different ways. It should be pointed out that the researchers were primarily interested in contrasting forms of communication that allowed people to hear each other’s voices (i.e., phone or video chat) with those that didn’t allow people to hear each other (i.e., email or text).


The investigators found that when they asked people if they’d rather communicate by phone or email, most were partial to email over the phone. And even though folks thought they’d feel closer to someone if they chatted on the phone, they also believed the phone would create more discomfort for them, and that discomfort was a more potent consideration as they thought about how they’d want to engage. People also tended to underrate how close they’d feel if they heard someone’s voice (i.e., phone call or video chat). And yet, despite people’s ideas about thought they’d feel, these didn’t align with what actually happened.


No matter whether people were engaging with someone through written or spoken communication, there was no difference in how uncomfortable they felt. However, people did wind up feeling closer to someone when they talked (i.e., phone call or video chat) rather than when they exchanged texts or email messages.


Putting this all together, what do these findings tell us? As the researchers point out, the results provide a picture in which humans have a tendency to judge how we’re going to feel incorrectly when we’re socializing through various means. And they note that based on these errors, we might try to pursue ways of touching base with people that, paradoxically, may leave us feeling less bonded to them.


In the future, when temptation calls you to send a text or an email, consider calling or video chatting instead. It might not always feel as convenient or easy, but research suggests that you and your relationships will be better off for it.