UTA community reflects on the differences between communicating in-person and virtually

Attendees laugh with each other during EXCEL's Welcome Back Movie event Aug. 28 in Brazos Park. 

Psychology senior Rebecca Roten said she was close to a classmate before the campus reopened. The two texted regularly and would talk about class.

“Now that we’re in person, we haven’t really interacted at all,” Roten said.

UTA transitioned to the online format on March 23, 2020, due to the pandemic, according to previous Shorthorn reporting. Now after a month back on campus, the community shared their thoughts on transitioning from virtual to in-person communication.

The pandemic caused many in-person events to shift to virtual formats, preventing students from meeting each other and making new friends. With the campus reopened, students now have the opportunity to mingle with new people.

The standard for in-person communication is different from virtual communication, biochemistry sophomore John Valloyas said.

Virtually, people can do whatever they want, like stay in bed and eat cereal, unlike in-person classes where they have to listen and pay attention, Valloyas said.

Virtual communication is less complicated than in-person communication, Roten said. There’s less time to think about one's actions during in-person socialization, and it’s more spontaneous, she said.

A lot of communication may not be able to happen virtually because communication is also nonverbal, psychology professor Tracy Greer said.

According to body language researcher Albert Mehrabian, 55% of communication is nonverbal, 38% vocal and 7% words only.

Nonverbal communication plays an important role in defining someone’s actions. Looking at someone’s facial expression, gestures, eye contact and posture tells others what they’re truly feeling.

“There are some people who are more comfortable virtually,” Greer said. “Now getting back to social interaction can be a little bit challenging.”

This could be caused by social anxiety and figuring out the best form of safe communication, Greer said.

Valloyas said he recently met his classmates from last semester in person for the first time. He said it was refreshing getting to meet them face-to-face.

“I was just hoping they’d be the same that they were online because that’s how I knew them,” Valloyas said. “I hope they didn’t have a different personality offline.”

There are differences in comfort levels between people, and some might feel a need to be cautious for health reasons, Greer said. While some people may feel comfortable with in-person interaction, others may not, which can cause some tension and awkwardness, she said.

“You can still get to know people pretty well virtually, but it’s different getting to meet them in person for the first time,” Roten said.

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