The advent of digital communication has, for years, allowed us as a people to build bridges across vast distances between faraway family and friends. This digital bridge saw more travelers than ever before during this past year, wherein various businesses and educational institutions hopped aboard Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other such video services to continue their operations.
In this way, digital communication transcended from novelty to necessity. But as Business Psychologist Helen Morris-Brown notes, face-to-face communication remains superior to this digital alternative. Why? Because the sheer speed available by digital communication allows us to forget our filters and forget to give a moment’s thought to what it is that we are communicating. In other words, sometimes we type or speak without thinking.
Morris-Brown adds that while face-to-face communication placed us within the vicinity of our audience, enabling us to feel the visceral response to our words—digital communication is done across distance, thereby removing us from the human element of the nuanced process of communication.
This distance hinders our ability to immediately perceive the effect of our communication. Yet it also inadvertently invites an increase in sloppier communication. Linguist Noam Chompsky once said that online communication “erodes normal human relations. It makes them more superficial, shallow, evanescent.” Though Chompsky was referring specifically to communication over social media, the point remains.
Jamie Aten, Ph.D., says of video communication services, “It can sometimes also be difficult to pick up on inflections in peoples’ voices, which can make it challenging to understand the fullness of what others are trying to communicate.” Aten observes that the prevalent use of digital communication exacerbates stress in our daily lives simply due to the aforementioned separation of the crucial human element.
To better cross the digital communication bridge, act as though the audience you’re addressing is in the room with us. Take time and breathe. Just because we can reply quickly doesn’t mean that we should. The speed of technology might seem an opulent privilege, but this privilege is but a deceptive cloak concealing a blunderous approach to human connection.
In light of all this, during your next Zoom meeting or digital communication, remember to pause. Don’t respond instantly. Breathe and reflect. Formulate thoughts and then diligently convey them with practiced patience. And remember, sometimes it is better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing.
“He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know.”
— Lao Tzu
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