Some reasons why I frequently prefer communicating via text

I often prefer communication via text to chatting in person, on the phone, or via a video call. Let’s call this latter grouping “oral communication” and the former “textual communication”.

This preference applies to various contexts: social, personal, work, intellectual. And I don’t think I personally know anyone who has a stronger preference for this than I do, although I suspect that there are at least a handful of people on LessWrong with stronger preferences than mine.

Here are some reasons that stick out to me for why I frequently prefer textual communication to oral communication, ordered very roughly from most to least important.[1]

  1. I find that, with oral communication, especially in groups, you frequently just end up in a “tangent frenzy” instead of discussing any one thing to something that at least vaguely resembles completion.

  2. It’s easier/​possible to discuss multiple threads in parallel.

  3. Being asynchronous, I, as well as the person(s) I’m talking with, can take my/​their time and think before responding. This helps in figuring out your thoughts as well as with expressing them more clearly.

  4. Personally I find both interruptions and inverted interruptions a good amount more unpleasant than others do.

  5. The conversation can last a lot longer. With in person conversations, you usually will need to end them for practical reasons such as “it’s 11pm and time to head home”. But with textual communication, there’s never really these sorts of obstacles.

  6. I think there is something about textual communication that is more meritocratic. It better holds people accountable. If you say something dumb, someone else can easily call it out in a thread, and if you don’t respond to that thread, well, it kinda just sits there and makes you look bad. Sort of. On the other hand, in oral communication, you can say something dumb, the conversation moves on, and people don’t get a proper chance to call you out for the dumb thing.

  7. It’s easy to share the conversation with others.[2]

  8. For various reasons, sometimes it’s nice to be able to reference the conversation in the future.

  9. I like being able to quote things. Sometimes quoting something the other person said to make it clear that I am responding to it. Other times quoting something someone who isn’t part of the conversation said, but that I think is relevant.

  10. If I have something to say that has a dependency, I can say it, link to the dependency, and then the other person can, asynchronously, read the dependency before reading the main thing.

  11. I can ramble. With oral communication, I feel like it’s a bit of an anti-pattern to say things of the form “I think X because of 1, 2 and 3. I also suspect Y, also because of 1 and 2 but also because of 4 and 5. This is probably tangential, but I strongly suspect Z because of 6.” It’s a bit rambly and doesn’t really give the other person or people a chance to butt in and say “actually, I’d like to dispute 2″. At least not at the most convenient time.[3]

  12. Sometimes it’s helpful to reference an image or graphic.

  13. I wouldn’t say that I could be more expressive in written communication, but I would say that I could be differently expressive—such as saying things parenthetically like this—in written communication.

  14. Sometime I prefer to say things in a way that sounds “fancy”. In oral communication, even amongst rationalists, I often feel awkward about it and try to think of a more informal way of saying the thing. I usually wish I didn’t have to do that though.

  1. ^

    Well, speaking more precisely, these are a bunch of benefits that I frequently see to textual communication. My preference depends on costs and benefits, on both sides. So what I really mean is that these sorts of benefits frequently end up being weighed pretty strongly such that I prefer textual communication.

  2. ^

    At the recent ACX meetup in Portland, I ran into something that I found a little unpleasant. There was a cocktail hour type of thing in the beginning where people would go around joining and leaving various small group conversations. When new people would join, we would pause and spend a decent amount of time trying to get the new person up to speed. I think this can be fine at times, but in those particular instances I felt like it really interrupted the flow of the conversation, and often times lead to us just going on a tangent and discussing something different instead.

  3. ^

    Actually, I think this very post is a better example. I’m basically saying “I prefer textual communication because of 1-14”. With oral communication, it’s kinda hard for the other person to wait until your done before saying “ok, now I’d like to dispute reason #2″.