Audio-Only Is Underrated

Audio-only is an underrated means of communication.

It was the default for a while, with the telephone — after written letters and the telegraph but before email, texting, social media, and video conferencing.

Audio has what text, email, and Twitter lack in paralanguage — stuff like tone, inflection, and pauses that clearly communicate sarcasm, for example.

This important advantage of audio over text is pretty widely appreciated.

What is far less appreciated is the advantage of audio-only vs. video conferencing (audio+video), because it doesn’t offer more — it offers less. But I believe that when it comes to audio vs. video communication, more often than not, less is more.

Audio-only is less distracting than video calls. You can focus on the speaker’s voice instead of their bad hair day or visual tic. You will not be distracted by the goings on of any of the other people on the call who aren’t speaking at all. If you are one of those non-speakers yourself, you can focus on actively listening instead of actively looking like you’re listening. Even if these things only occupy 10% of your conscious thought, that’s a lot of unnecessary distraction. Most people have a hard enough time focusing for long periods of time without this 10% handicap, and I think for many people it may be much greater than 10%. In summary, to use the somewhat over-used phrase, audio-only has less noise, more signal.

In my personal experience, for whatever combination of reasons, I find audio-only generally makes for realer conversations, which are better conversations. I find them more enjoyable. That’s why I prefer them.

I am not just writing this. I live by it and encourage you to try it. I record all of my podcasts audio-only. I join Zooms audio-only and hide the window with everyone’s faces. I rarely FaceTime my family or friends — I just call them. Usually I’ll go for a walk while we talk, another thing you can’t so easily or acceptably do with video calls.

Most people and businesses started using video calls in recent years due to the advent of apps like FaceTime and Zoom, respectively. Since COVID, video calls have become the default. I believe this is wrong. Try some more audio-only communications if you can. See if it feels more right.

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