If you are a student then chances are that you are hooked to instant messaging apps. Understanding the challenges and limitations of this medium is crucial as you step into a world where you may begin using the same mediums in a professional setting. A misunderstanding caused just because of the choice of medium happens regularly and is easily avoidable.

As the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “The greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” Sending messages over the numerous social media platforms or messaging apps has become second nature. The moment we get a thought, an idea or have news, we are quick to send a message. Even to communicate with friends, instant messaging is the most common way. When we send a message, we often feel satisfied that it has been properly communicated. It is not. Imagine you send a message to a friend before exam to convey your anxiety and the reason behind your stress.

But is it communication or a mere exchange of information? No matter how much one tries, texts cannot express the actual emotions one is feeling. This is why even in the era of instant messages, we are lonelier than ever, and misunderstandings are increasing. If it is your birthday, replying to the birthday wishes seems more like a chore than bringing pure joy. We communicate through much more ways than just words. Body language, the tonality of voice, hand gestures all form a part of the communication. Since childhood, we learn to read these non-verbal cues. A toddler who may not be able to talk can still understand when he is told not to do something, just by observing the body language and tone of the voice. We always read these cues. If you are narrating to your friend how you had a great vacation, your voice expresses excitement too.

No amount of emojis can ever transfer happiness, joy or even anger. Understanding the medium and its limitations can help us to use it in the best possible manner. Messaging apps never help in discussions and debates. It is difficult for a person to communicate a complex idea using words alone. We learn and form our opinions through a mix of articles and videos. Even in college, we are learning through both verbal and non-verbal communication, it is natural that we feel limited when trying to express our complex thoughts solely through text messages.

Also, when we are emotionally charged, it will be impossible for us to achieve complete communication over messages. Be it happiness, love, sadness or anger. In such situations, the choice of words matter a lot. If both persons are not in the same emotional state, they may perceive the same sentence differently. With the tone of voice, body language missing from the communication, it is easy to have misunderstandings when using text for emotional exchange. However, messaging apps also come with their advantages.

Say, you are going to a business meeting and you are running a bit late. All you want to communicate is the fact that you would be late by 15 minutes. This would be perfect information to send over a message. Any information, where the sole purpose is only to let the other person know about an event, an update or news, messaging apps come handy. You found something interesting on the Internet, and you feel your colleagues would like it too?

Maybe an article relating to your work — share it over a message. Messages are a perfect way to exchange links, photos or any media. Messaging apps are also a great way to create a sense of staying up to date with people you don’t meet often. So be it an old school friend or whether you are staying away from the family, messaging apps can help maintain a sense of connection.

The writer is founder, Zest. Md (India) and Soulitude Inc (USA)