Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Written vs. Face-to-Face Communication

Last week while I was on a plane, I saw an ad in the SkyMall magazine for some dating service which matched people up online, but met with all members individually first to get a sense of their personality when helping them create their profile. They then went on to talk about how you can't actually get a good sense of who somebody is and build a relationship via written communication, and it's not until you see them in real life that you can realize who they are.


Yeah, I don't buy that.

That makes the assumption that we are always more ourselves in face-to-face interactions than in written ones, and, for me at least, that is ABSOLUTELY not true. People who regularly read my blog probably know me better than people who regularly interact with me on a casual level. There have been times when people I have known for YEARS in real life suddenly find out a major facet of my personality and had no idea.

I'm not *hiding* my true personality in face-to-face situations so much as I just refuse to fight for the spotlight. If I'm in a social group of people who all have things to say, I will generally just let them all speak and I will say nothing, even if I have something to contribute, because I don't want to *demand* their attention.

When I communicate in writing, I don't feel like I have to force myself into a conversation. I don't have to be the loudest one at the table to make myself heard. I can just say what I want to say and move on.

When I communicate in writing, I can think about what I want to say. I can find the words to say *exactly* what I mean, without having to verbally bactkrack and say, "No, that's not what I meant."

When I communicate in writing, I'm not spending so much time trying to watch the other person and figure out if they're bored by what I'm saying or not.

When I communicate in writing, I am more open, more friendly, more willing to share who I actually am.

There's a reason every single close friend from high school is someone I met online. Although I have bridged the gap a bit in the years since high school, I still make very strong, very personal ties to online friends. And *nobody* is allowed to tell me those aren't real friendships. The best is when I meet up with those friends for the first time in real life and I click with them instantly - but not because I'm "finally getting to see who they are." We both know each other already. It's just adding another level to the friendship.

Some of the stigma of online friendships and relationships is already fading, and I'm delighted. Even if most of the people I meet in real life don't HAVE online-only friends, they know someone who does, and it's not as much of a "What kind of socially incompetent basement-dwelling monster are you?" look anymore.


  1. I've met quite a few of my online friends in person now, and I wouldn't say any of them have been any different offline, or that I know them better for the experience than I would have spending an equal time talking to them online. The few friends I've made and mostly interacted with offline are no closer or more real than online friends.

    Of course, getting to see friends in person is something you can't really replicate online, but it's more about getting to hang out with them and actually do things together (and hugs, hugs are good) than "realising who they are", and it's just as good visiting friends made in person you haven't seen for a while as visiting online friends.

    1. Interesting... Your comment made me think a bit about why my experience with this is different than yours. I do know I make friends online much more quickly than I do offline. If I compare people who I have spent an equal amount of time with, but one is an online friend and one is an offline friend, I'm more likely to feel closer to the online one. Not that I can't make offline friends, obviously - it just takes me longer.

      I'm also not an "actually do things together" kind of person. Heh. There aren't a *lot* of things I do with people when we hang out in real life that I can't do with them online. I'm not a very active person, and when I do hang out with real life friends, I'm likely to just go to lunch with them and talk, rather than *do* anything. (I'm always thrown off when I visit a friend and they're concerned that I'm bored with just hanging around talking to them. Heh.) Most of my close friendships are based around conversations, rather than activities. (I suspect part of this is also due to the fact that if I *want* to do an activity, I'd usually rather do it on my own. If I want to go out someplace, I'll go on my own.)

  2. Ten years ago we talked about "meeting people online" strictly in the context of using dating services to circumvent the hassle of offline dating. Today, though, it's a lot easier to encounter people through your daily use of the web in other contexts. No longer do we say, "I met this person online." Now we can say, "I met this person through That Group [online]." For instance, I met you through the Flickcharters Facebook group. That change in characterization has gone a long way toward legitimizing online friendships.

    As for the difference between our online and offline selves, I think that's a very complicated matter. There are those like you, who are much more comfortable expressing themselves online. Some take it even farther, into the realm of actively reinventing themselves for the purpose of the web. One can argue they're merely expressing a different part of themselves in a unique forum, but it still leaves the people they meet in the precarious situation of trying to reconcile the online persona with the offline person.

    I fall in the middle of this whole matter. One thing I've done very carefully since childhood is to make sure my speaking and writing voices align with one another so that I don't sound inauthentic either way. That is, I never wanted anyone to read what I wrote with incredulity or to think that I sounded more (whatever) than I could express in writing, etc.

    Yet, I know that the written form allows me to organize and weave my thoughts in a different way than conversation allows. In writing, I am not subject to interruption. I can move from Point A to Point B without someone hijacking my line of thought to interject with their own dispute of Point A or the route to Point B.

    Unlike you, however, I am very comfortable in group settings. It becomes tiring for me, of course, and in that I do still relate to you. It's a different way of expressing a different part of myself, but I'm fine to do it. I liken it to the difference between a concert at a small bar versus at an arena. The show you get at the small bar will be intimate, often showcasing more off-the-cuff improvisation and chatter from the performer(s). The arena show will feature large sets and adhere to a much stricter choreography. Each can be satisfying, but in wholly different ways. I can be KISS or I can be Norah Jones, and I'm (mostly) comfortable either way.

    That said, I know for a fact that I express things about myself more intimately in my blog. I often find myself in the blogger's conundrum of trying to refrain from saying to people in offline conversation, "Well, I wrote about this recently and..." It would make my life much easier if my family and friends would just read what I share with the world.

    1. The bit about deliberately matching up your speaking and writing voices is very interesting to me. It made me curious about whether there's much of a discrepancy there for me. I get a little snarkier in real life (I'm sometimes more hesitant about making those jokes online because they're so easily misunderstood without body language and it's tedious to add a smiley after everything I say). But other than that, I feel like the voices line up pretty well - the main difference is simply that I just *don't talk* as often in real life. If I interact with someone one-on-one (or in a group setting where attention is directed at me and I don't have to fight for it) they would probably get a pretty good sense of me. It's my silence that makes the difference.

      The group vs. individual setting is interesting for me, and now I have to puzzle it out a bit. Heh. It's hard for me to even think of group activities as *being* social. I know they are. I know most other people consider them such. For me, if I attend group activities, I end up, oddly, both oversocialized AND feeling like I didn't get to spend time with any of those people. It's kind of like... being sprayed with a fire hose when you're thirsty. It's overwhelming and now you're wet and you want to just walk away and not go near any water again but you're still thirsty.

      None of that is *all* that relevant. Just thinking some stuff through in response to your comment.

      I thoroughly agree with your last paragraph, though.