Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why Internet communication is better than face-to-face, in some regards anyway

I have been thinking lately of how generally I prefer to communicate with everyone online, much better than face-to-face (F2F). Here are some reasons why the Internet is better than F2F.

The main advantage of Internet communications is that spatial and temporal barriers are removed, thus opening up communication that might not otherwise be possible or feasible. This is well documented in research, and personally I have been able to e-mail or comment on friends’ blogs or personal pages whom I would not be able to meet in person, or find the time to write. The asynchronous nature of many Internet connections also opens up the possibility of communicating at a time that is convenient, opposed to the hassles of finding mutually suitable times for a face-to-face get-together. I have some friends that I have to schedule a lunch with them 2 months in advance; this restriction does not apply online.

Another benefit of Internet communication is that there are studies to show that the lack of visual cues online has been found to lessen discrimination based on race, gender, social status, and social similarity and thus improve communication or even open otherwise closed channels. Online anonymity has also been found to allow people communicate online (e.g. sufferers of certain diseases, fans of embarrassing TV shows like Xena) than they would feel comfortable doing F2F (although this has also resulted in flaming and trolling).

Another factor is that some people with social inhibition are more able to connect and communicate online. Facebook researchers found the low social cost (i.e. low risk of public rejection) of connecting online did allow users to form relationships than would otherwise remained purely casual. Personally, I know many people that feel shy in F2F situations but feel liberated online and can communicate on forums, emails, etc. more openly.

Various researchers have hypothesized that Internet-based technology allows one to maintain significantly more ties than could be achieved exclusively through offline efforts. Again, I can back this up with my personal experience of being able to keep connected and updated with lots of friends, primarily through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed than I was ever able to before.

A main reason why I love Internet communication is that even though I live in a big city, in my offline life I cannot find people who want to discuss the topics I care passionately about. Online the opposite is true; there are too many places and people online that are already talking about things I’m interested in (e.g. Twitter, blogs, forums, etc.) than I could ever possibly follow. I've read studies and know people who reported finding kindred spirits online that they could connect regularly and meaningfully with not only about the topic at hand, but also about everything in their lives from miscarriages, divorces, weddings, & births.

I also think the Internet allows us to break some societal conventions or norms. Anonymity allows people to open up online or try on new identities. But when not anonymous, we can find a space to talk about other things than just polite conversation allows, whether that is heated political debates, religion, or other topics more heated than the weather or last night's game. Societal convention also says that one should not inflict trip pix or baby photos on one's friends in real life, yet the Internet has given a place to post them & let friends view them if they want - and it turns out that lots of friends do want to see them. This aspect of the Net has made deeper and more constant connections more feasible.

Finally, a reason that I love asynchronous Internet conversation is I feel infinitely more at ease than I do during F2F conversations. Online I can take the time to think about what I am saying or control things more.

I guess the truly last thing I find about Internet communication is that one can more readily say all they want to say despite its length! Not to mention, one can say what the want to say on their blog, for example, and actually find people (hopefully at least one or two people who aren't relations) that want to listen.


Liz-Metcalfe said...

This is try No. 2 at commenting here... first one didn't seem to take.

I just can't help but wonder if we value "virtual" friendships differently than we do face-to-face friendships. An online friend who is strictly an online friend can't bring you chicken soup when you're sick. There is also a different level of commitment involved. It takes five minutes to dash off a message to maintain an online engagement, while maintaining real-life friendships requires face-to-face hugs and committing to spending real time together. While I have had virtual friendships turn into face-to-face friendships, that tends to be rare, largely because of geographic challenges.

jimmy said...

i agree with you sir! or at least i disagree with treating internet like a societal brain fart. I have found that my conversations online with people have more frequently led to meaningful relationships than with my f2f peers. I think an enlightened society would be connected to the internet 24/7