Chances are, you’ve spent some time today communicating with friends and colleagues using one of the many services for sending words. Whether those words were sent via email, SMS or chats, they have an impact on your psychological well-being. In fact, research shows that digital forms of text-based communication can have a positive impact on your self-esteem — even more so than physical face-to-face interactions.
In a study of 76 participants over a six-day interval, 3649 social interactions took place. According to Dr. Amy Gonzales, many of those were still face-to-face interactions (62 percent), but it had less of an emotional impact than the written, digital word (22 percent). Gonzales hypothesizes that those digital communications were important for psychological health, because “the psychological benefits of text-based communication stems from enhanced self-disclosure.” For example, the accessibility of text messaging and chatting apps allow users to communicate easily and freely at any time; text-based communication actually enhances emotional disclosure.
Apps like Snapchat are testing our written word against the ephemeral nature of time. Using Snapchat can feel like tossing around disposable words or ideas — but, its side benefit can be its ability to assuage social discomfort or just lessen the impact of saying something inadvertently awkward.
Gonzales’ previous study on Facebook revealed that using the social network can boost your self-esteem by allowing you to put your best face forward, which gives you a positive way of looking at yourself. Concurrently, other studies have shown that using too much Facebook actually makes you feel lonely. While those findings do not disprove its efficacy in making ourselves feel better about our self-image, they certainly highlight the complexity of social media and digital communication.
It’s possible that users also reach out more often when lonely, so higher use actually indicates symptoms of loneliness. Does text-based communication increase self-esteem because it allows time to construct words in a way that appears better, more concise than voice communications? Perhaps there is a personal bias towards seeing words rather than hearing words:
It is unclear why the same pattern of self-esteem improvement was not seen for cellphone conversations, especially given that participants disclosed more in cell phone conversations and cell phone communication was on average rated as more meaningful than text-based communication.
Whether you choose to have voice or text communication, “these findings indicate that digital technology is not an impoverished substitute for meaningful face-to-face conversation,” said Gonzales. Technology might make us busier, but given that it’s not possible to have face-to-face talks 100 percent of the time — what are the ways that technology can help us improve our self-esteem while helping us to effectively communicate?