Communication at the time of Covid-19: how far does technology go?

Communication at the time of Covid-19: how far does technology go?

Non-verbal communication, from tone of voice to silence pauses, from eye contact to facial expressions, from posture to gestures, is a fundamental element through which we are able to complete what the other wants to communicate to us. What are the consequences of technology-mediated interactions?


Advertising message Verbal and non-verbal communication is the basis of any exchange and interpersonal relationship. In this regard, Albert Mehrabian, in 1971, studied communication processes by formulating the model of “55, 38, 7”. According to the psychologist, in fact, only 7% of the communication really depends on the verbal content of the message. A minimum percentage, if considered in comparison with that relating to non-verbal language (55%) and to paraverbal elements such as rhythm and tone of voice (38%).

But how does communication change if, in times of sanitary emergency, there is no way to meet the other person except through the video call?

In fact, although the network gives us the opportunity to avoid the sense of solitude and social isolation, it is still not able to adequately replace the face to face meeting. Because? Not only because the wifi does not always work or the connection is poor, but also because the communication exchange could lose quality. In fact, the consequences are paid mainly by non-verbal communication, given by proxemics, tone of voice, silence pauses, eye contact and facial expressions, posture and gestures. In more peaceful times, through these elements we are able to complete the message we express in words, adding to this value and intensity.

Unfortunately, however, during a video call the tone of voice, the meaning of a look or a facial expression is not easily captured. Often posture and gestures are not even visible. Furthermore, it is difficult to grasp the meaning of a silent pause in a speech if it is not clear if this is due to a delay in the line or to an emotional factor. It even becomes complicated to respect the turns of the conversation, to avoid interruptions in the other’s speech, while it becomes even easier to fall into unidirectional messages, semantic distortions and anticipations. This is not much different from what frequently occurs in the messages we exchange daily. The lack of intonation and the absence of the context to which to attribute a sentence is the cause of great misunderstandings and quarrels. In these cases, what happens is the compromise of the correct interpretation of meanings. And, let’s not imagine that this happens only in hearing friends and relatives, it also happens in all social networks built to carry on the jobs and projects that otherwise would have been interrupted. Can a psychotherapist adequately follow his patient without being able to interpret body language? Can a professor convey the same motivation to his students without them seeing the enthusiasm in his eyes? In an online degree session, does a committee chair maintain the same authoritative tone of voice in declaring her undergraduates doctors? Will doctors, who monitor their patients remotely, be able to communicate trust without being able to use a reassuring gesture?

Advertising message What are the consequences? At the moment, an inadequate interpretation of the message causes an inadequate response. In other words, if you cannot understand the other’s non-verbal signal, you may show little empathy, disinterest, minimization of the message. Apparently, you have the feeling of a very forced and unnatural communication, they demonstrate it: the disproportionate tendency to raise your voice (moreover, what do you do to communicate with a distant person?), To get closer with your face or ears to the screen (hoping to see or hear the other better) and to use unnatural but more exemplary gestures.

On the other hand, in the long term, in an increasingly virtual world, the use of these tools could involve the implementation of distracted, more superficial, less important and more redundant conversations. In addition, a possible reduction in the time of meeting with the other, which, although it can be achieved at any time, does not return that empathic listening expected in the interaction which, on the other hand, ends up costing a greater communicative effort.

The video call, in any case, appears to be the most avant-garde means that our time offers us. Through this, in fact, we manage to keep meaningful relationships alive and to carry on our projects. Despite this, he still cannot replace the real encounter with the other, it is demonstrated by the fact that we still feel the need to look someone in the eye and the nostalgia of being able to understand each other without having to use many words.