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Digital Versus Human Communication

It’s amazing to think that less than twenty years ago, if I wanted to communicate with someone from afar, I’d have to call them on the telephone, mail them a letter, or perhaps even send them a telegram. To say the world of communication has changed is an understatement, and this dramatic transformation comes with its share of pros and cons.

Certainly there are benefits to having all these communication options. Emailing, texting, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and more have allowed us to not only find almost anyone we seek, but has also given us the ability to connect with them quickly and efficiently.

No question about it — there are lots of pros.

What about the cons?

For me, and for many people I speak with, some of the biggest negatives we have to deal with in our day-to-day communication are not only the lack of face-to-face contact in conversation but also not even hearing the voices of the people with whom we are communicating. Texting has replaced talking, and calling someone on the telephone is often the last choice when it comes to connecting with others.

Why is this a problem?

Personally speaking (and I hear this from others as well), I feel we miss a lot by texting. We can’t hear voice inflections, can’t make out sarcasm, and can’t infer moods. Somebody could be crying uncontrollably while texting us and we’d never know. Sure there are plenty of emojis to help us out here, but they don’t replace real voices and expressions. And comparing texting and other forms of digital communication to face-to-face contact, we are missing all types of body language which generally help us understand what someone is truly communicating.

We are communicating digitally, not humanly.

In an interesting study published in Psychological Science titled, “The Humanizing Voice: Speech Reveals, and Text Conceals, a More Thoughtful Mind in the Midst of Disagreement,” the authors compare the role of speech versus text in people’s perceptions of those with whom they strongly disagree. One of the things the researchers found is that hearing a person’s voice has a humanizing effect on a person’s view of their opponent. From the study:

“Text alone lacks…paralinguistic cues that reveal uniquely human mental capacities, thereby enabling dehumanization if readers do not compensate for the absence of these cues.”

And…

“If mutual appreciation and understanding of the mind of another person is the goal of social interaction, then it may be best for the person’s voice to be heard.”

I can’t help thinking that because our young people are using technology at younger and younger ages to communicate, they are missing out on some important lessons in interacting and communicating with others. Reading the body language and facial expressions of others are often skills that require practice to master, and many of our young people might not be getting enough practice.

Clearly, our advances in communication via technology are here to stay, and no doubt there are even more developments on the horizon. Overall, I believe it’s a good thing. But I also think we need to be mindful of the drawbacks of these types of communication as well, and remember that our ability, desire, and need to communicate face-to-face, with our voices heard, is an important part of what makes us human.

Digital Versus Human Communication


Janet Singer

Janet Singer’s son Dan suffered from OCD so severe that he could not even eat. After navigating through a disorienting maze of treatments and programs, Dan made a triumphant recovery. Janet has become an advocate for OCD awareness and wants everyone to know that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. There is so much hope for those with this disorder. Janet, who uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy, is the author of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, published in January 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield. Her own blog, www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com, has reached readers in 167 countries. She is married with three children and resides in New England.


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APA Reference
Singer, J. (2018). Digital Versus Human Communication. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 17, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/digital-versus-human-communication/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.