Face-to-face interaction (less often, face-to-face communication or face-to-face discourse) is a concept in sociology, linguistics, media and communication studies describing social interaction carried out without any mediating technology. Sociologist Erving Goffman in his classic 1959 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life defined face-to-face interaction as "the reciprocal influence of individuals upon one another's actions when in one another's immediate physical presence". Linguist Mary Ritchie Key defined research on face-to-face interaction as one "aimed at discovering, documenting and describing regularities in the actions observable in actual interactions."
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 an eye contact. His insights were soon developed by others, including Charles Cooley and George Herbert Mead. Their theories became known as symbolic interactionism. By 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.
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 life time. Similarly it is also central to the organization and development of various groups and organizations composed of those individuals.
Study of face-to-face interaction is concerned with issues such as its organization, rules, and strategy.
Historically, mediated communication was much rarer than face-to-face one. Even through humans possessed the technology to use technology to communicate in space and time for millennia, majority of world's population lacked 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 15th century. Since then, face-to-face interaction has begun to steadily lose ground to mediated communication.
Despite the advent of many new information and communication technologies, face-to-face interaction is still widespread and popular. Nardi and Whittaker (2002) noted that "many theorists imply that face-to-face communication is the gold standard of communication", 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 due to the fact that face-to-face communication engages more human senses than mediated communication. Mills, Bratton and Forshaw (2006) noted that "face-to-face interaction is the most effective form of verbal communication when the sender wants to persuade or motivate the receiver". Emmitt and Gorse (2006) noted that "face-to-face interaction is still considered the preferred method for resolving problems and contentious issues", and Kerry (2010) stated that "face-to-face interaction is still seen as the best form of teaching". In the context of politics, Burnell (2011) observes that face-to-face interaction is the preferred means to activate contact and maintain strong ties."
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 long-distance friendship, face-to-face communication was only the fourth most common way of maintaining ties, after telephone, email and instant messaging.
- body-to-body communication
- computer-mediated communication
- facial expression
- interpersonal communication
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