By Elly Niedzviecki
With the arrival of the Coronavirus and social distancing protocols, online communication is at a high. Among students texting, DMing, messaging and anything similar has become a regular part of socializing. What we use to send quick reminders and messages has also become a platform for longer conversations, daily check in’s and perhaps for some, the bulk of daily interaction (besides who you live with). What makes a conversation and are the differences between verbal conversations and online ones bigger than we thought?
The clarity of what someone is saying is important, it’s hard to have a conversation if you don’t understand what the other person is trying to say. Messaging is great for planning small things and asking short concise questions when you’re just trying to get things done. But in a longer conversation where there’s more being exchanged, it can be hard to tell the tone (whether they’re being serious about something or joking, etc.) of whoever you’re talking to over messaging. When we communicate face to face we use body language, voice, and facial expressions to figure that out. Also, it gets hard to know how to respond (or even if you should try) over messaging when you get completely emotionless answers like “lmao, same” and emojis. Without tone in a conversation, it is easier to misunderstand and confuse the context of what you’re talking about.
A conversation we can have completely in our own time, that we can end and start whenever we want and don’t have to experience any in-person awkwardness sounds like the ultimate way to socialize, and sometimes it is. But when we do this, we lose fluidity and it becomes debatable as to whether or not it’s even a conversation or just many little chunks of dialogue. We also lose the sense of connection, in an in-person conversation you can mostly tell if the other person is interested and present. But with messaging there are practically no ways to tell what the other’s thinking besides what/when they type. Talking via messaging comes with a lot of conveniences but by being able to have this type of control over when the conversation happens while not being able to know what’s happening on the other side it becomes quite a different type of communication. One that involves less connection between people but also lets us manage the conversation without being put on the spot and having to respond on a whim.
It was mentioned previously that it is harder to use contextual sarcasm/humor over messaging, which is fine because obviously, humor does not need to be included in a conversation. However, on many occasions, contextual humor and talking about what’s happening at the moment helps to shape the discussion. Because whatever is happening at that moment becomes a shared experience, so something people can both relate to and discuss. And being able to respond with humor generally makes everything feel more relaxed and friendly. With messaging, although you can send pictures, videos, and posts to try and replace the circumstantial aspect of conversations, knowing how/what to talk about over text is completely different from finding things to talk about in-person.
Although messaging conversations are not necessarily better or worse than in-person ones; all the things we’re used to, maybe unconsciously in a conversation, body language to set tone, having immediate back and forth communication, and having the influence of circumstantial elements on the content, are absent online. Without these things, we are losing so much and fewer intrapersonal skills are being used. But overall, messaging conversations are so different they could redefine the way we converse and communicate.