In sociology, linguistics, media studies and communication studies, face-to-face interaction (less often, face-to-face communication or face-to-face discourse) is social interaction carried out without any mediating technology. Face-to-face interaction is defined as the mutual influence of individuals’ direct physical presence with his/her body language. Face-to-face interaction is one of the basic elements of the social system, forming a significant part of individual socialization and experience gaining throughout one's lifetime. Similarly it is also central to the development of various groups and organizations composed of those individuals.
Study of face-to-face interaction is defined as the process of recording and analyzing the reactive pattern of individuals when they are involved in a face-to-face interaction. It is concerned with issues such as its organization, rules, and strategy. The concept of face-to-face interaction has been of interest to scholars since at least the early 20th century. One of the earliest social science scholars to analyze this type of interaction was sociologist Georg Simmel, who in his 1908 book observed that sensory organs play an important role in interaction, discussing examples of human behavior such as eye contact. His insights were soon developed by others, including Charles Cooley and George Herbert Mead. Their theories became known as symbolic interactionism. By the mid-20th century, there was already a sizable scholarly literature on various aspects of face-to-face interaction. Works on this topic have been published by scholars such as Erving Goffman and Eliot Chapple.
Advent of mediated communication
Historically, mediated communication was much rarer than face-to-face. Even though humans have possessed the technology to communicate in space and time (e.g. writing) for millennia, the majority of the world's population lacked the necessary skills, such as literacy, to use them. This began to change with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg that led to the spread of printed texts and rising literacy in Europe from the 15th century. Since then, face-to-face interaction has begun to steadily lose ground to mediated communication.
Compared with mediated communication
Face-to-face communication has been however described as less preferable to mediated communication in some situations, particularly where time and geographical distance are an issue. For example, in maintaining a long-distance friendship, face-to-face communication was only the fourth most common way of maintaining ties, after telephone, email, and instant messaging.
What's more, face-to-face communication could easily be interrupted or avoided by just pulling out a cell phone or electronic device. When it comes to communication and understanding one another fully 93% is non-verbal, and body language and 7% is written. (Tardanico) According to research studies show that there is an estimated total of over 300 million cell phones users in the United States. (Lopez-Rosenfeld) Owning a cell phone becomes a distraction in everyday life whether if you get a phone call, text message, e-mail, etc. Any alert, in general, is a distraction because of the settings that you can customize.
Despite the advent of many new information and communication technologies, face-to-face interaction is still widespread and popular and has a better performance in many different areas. Nardi and Whittaker (2002) pointed that face-to-face communication is still the golden standard among the mediated technologies based on many theorists, particularly in the context of the media richness theory where face-to-face communication is described as the most efficient and informational one. This is explained because face-to-face communication engages more human senses than mediated communication. Face-to-face interaction is also a useful way for people when they want to win over others based on verbal communication, or when they try to settle disagreements. Besides, it does help a lot for teachers as one effective teaching method. It is also easier to keep a stronger and more active political connection with others by face-to-face interaction.
So far, the effect of face-to-face interaction across different cultures has not been discussed. Although there are increasingly virtual communications in large transnational companies with the development of Internet, face-to-face interaction is still a crucial tool for employees to cooperate or negotiate with each other.
Cooperation in a multicultural team requires knowledge sharing. Ambiguous knowledge which arises frequently in a multicultural team is inevitable because of the different language habits. Face-to-face communication is better than other virtual communications for the ambiguous information. The reason is that face-to-face communication can provide non-verbal messages including gestures, eye contact, touch, and body movement. However, the virtual communications, such as email, only have verbal information which will make team members more misunderstanding of the knowledge due to their different comprehension of the same words. On the other hand, the understanding of professional standards shows no difference between face-to-face interaction and virtual communications.
What's more, van der Zwaard and Bannink (2014) examined the effect of video call compared with face-to-face communication on the negotiation of meaning between native speakers and non-native speakers of English. Face-to-face communication can provide individuals who use English as the second language both intentional and unintentional actions which could enhance the comprehension of the chat in English. Besides, individuals are more honest in understanding when they are in face-to-face interaction than in video call due to the potential loss of face issues for the non-native language speakers during the video call. So as a result, face-to-face interaction has a more positive influence on the negotiation of meaning than virtual communications such as the video call.
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