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BusinessDay: Digital natives are losing art of face-to-face communication

By Johan Steyn: 27 March 2024

WhatsApp’s voice note feature stands out as a particularly useful tool, given my aversion to typing on my phone and the uncertainty of whether calls will be timely for others. Voice notes streamline communication, allowing me to convey messages effectively while providing the flexibility for recipients to respond at their convenience.

Lately, I have been pondering whether the appeal of voice notes transcends simple convenience. At times, my reluctance to engage in real-time conversation leads me to choose voice notes as a somewhat effortless, possibly even avoidant, method of communication. This behaviour prompts me to question why we lean towards this approach and the underlying psychological dynamics it reveals.

“In a world where we’re overloaded with texts, anxiety-ridden about phone calls, and fatigued by video chats, many people are turning to another form of communication: voice messages.” This claim, in an article by Vox, highlights how voice messages offer a sweet spot in digital communication. It provides a personal touch without the immediate demands of live interaction, making it appealing for its convenience and emotional expressiveness.

This form of communication allows individuals to convey more nuanced messages and emotions, bridging the gap between text’s brevity and the directness of phone calls or video chats.

The educational provider Preply reported that the use of voice notes has increased notably in recent years, with 41% of people observing a rise in this form of communication. Significantly, two-thirds of Americans now incorporate voice notes into their daily interactions. Leading the charge in this digital shift is Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012), with an impressive 84% adopting voice notes, highlighting their comfort and fluency with this technology. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are not far behind, with 63% using voice notes, demonstrating the appeal of this communication method across younger generations. 

Interestingly, the trend extends beyond the digital natives; 56% of Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) and 47% of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have also embraced voice notes, indicating a broad appeal across age groups. Friends are the primary audience for these voice messages, with more than half of the users (51%) preferring to send voice notes in a casual, friendly context.

The driving factor behind this preference is the conveyance of complex ideas; nearly half of Americans (48%) find voice notes easier and more effective for sharing intricate thoughts and emotions, underscoring the practical and expressive advantages of voice notes in modern communication.

The digital age has dramatically reshaped how young people communicate, with technology becoming a fundamental part of their social interactions. The proliferation of smartphones, social media platforms, and various messaging apps has introduced new dynamics into how connections are made, maintained, and even terminated. 

The debate over whether digital communication is eroding young people’s face-to-face communication skills is ongoing. Critics argue that heavy reliance on digital tools might impede the development of vital interpersonal skills. Skills such as interpreting body language, grasping the subtleties of tone, and navigating real-time conversations without the safety net of editing or retracting statements could suffer. 

The worry is that as digital communication becomes more prevalent, younger generations might find themselves less equipped to engage in meaningful, empathetic, and effective personal communication, potentially affecting personal relationships and professional opportunities.


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