Friendship: Face-to-face vs digital communication


We’re just back from a great time at the Round Taupo Cycle Challenge.  One of the pluses of the event was catching up with old friends. It really hit me how important it is to occasionally see friends in person. In 2011 we went on a fantastic Tour de France cycling trip. We formed some great new friendships,  maybe forged by the pain of biking up those famous mountain climbs.  Of course we all promised to stay in touch for ever and ever, but then real life took over….  except for the Round Taupo Cycle Challenge.  Lots of our TdF people were there and we rapidly re-kindled the ties.

One obvious reason for the need for in-person contact is the subtle but crucial awareness we gain from countless body language signals. What comes over as silence on the phone, can be more accurately interpreted as thinking time, confusion, surprise, emotional challenge and so on.  There are countless possible meanings, any of which we can quickly interpret once we’re together in person. In theory Skype should enable us to pick up enough of those, but there’s still too much  detachment in Skype communication to do the subtlety required.

Recent revolutions in  understanding about the brain suggests that there’s complex biochemical interaction between two people face-to-face in a communication. For example, in theory, if I put my hand on your shoulder for 45 seconds, our hearts will be beating in unison! (This presumes that you want to be in unison with me!) The Wikipedia entry on non-verbal communication has some interesting material on this if you want to follow it up.

There’s also a very complex and interesting article called .  The article concludes that the value of each type depends on the type of communication – so it’s not face-to-face ‘good’, virtual ‘ bad’.  For example, virtual communication meant that we already knew that some of our TdF friends were going to be at the Taupo Cycle Challenge.  Mobile phone technology meant that we could easily find one another amongst the thousands of happy cyclists at the end-of-race event.

Probably touch plays an important role in this. Us Kiwis are getting so much better at using the hug as part of our greetings. Plus, when we are face-to-face, we are sharing the same physical environment – the colours on the wall, any noises outside and so on. We can see the  whole of one another, not just the face or upper body.

What’s your sense of what makes in-person communication so much more satisfying? If we’re forced to communicating mainly virtually, what ideas are there for building the connection the medium lacks?

So here’s to togetherness in cycling!  I’m off to work out how to combine both in-person and virtual communication to make the best of having two children more or less permanently living overseas.



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