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Opinion: Can we talk? Human interaction trumps tech in some realms of communication, poll finds

Majorities of Canadians would prefer to break up with a lover or quit a job in person, survey suggests.
Almost three-quarters of Canadians say they would quit a jog in person; fewer people would announce their departure by email, text or phone call, a new poll finds.

For the past few weeks, Canadians have begun to plan a return to life after the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a country with high vaccination rates and no lockdowns, we are beginning to plan trips and see friends again. Things that we did with extreme care in 2020, such as visiting a bank, are now done mostly without masks or hand sanitizer.

This month, Research Co. and Glacier Media took a look at the way Canadians communicate, as well as our level of anxiety when dealing with others. The results show that the younger generations are more reliant on technology to get their points across, while those over the age of 55 lag in embracing apps and enjoy human interaction.

For starters, more than two in five Canadians (44 per cent) claim that they would have no problem giving a speech in front of other people. More than half (52 per cent) disagree with this statement, including 30 per cent who “strongly disagree” with their own ability to speak in public.

The generational divide becomes evident in the next two questions. A slight majority of Canadians (51 per cent) acknowledge feeling anxious when they have to make a phone call to a person they do not know – including 61 per cent of those aged 18 to 34. In addition, almost half of Canadians (46 per cent) say they find text messages impersonal – including 55 per cent of those aged 55 and over.

When asked to choose a preferred mode of communication for quitting a job, more than seven in 10 Canadians (73 per cent) say they would do so in person, while significantly fewer would announce their departure through an email (15 per cent), a phone call (seven per cent) or a text message (five per cent).

Canadians aged 18 to 34, who grew up with laptops and smartphones, are more likely to say that they would quit a job via email (24 per cent). The numbers are lower for Canadians aged 35 to 54 (17 per cent) and Canadians aged 55 and over (five per cent).

It is not surprising to see that more than four in five Canadians (82 per cent) would prefer to end a relationship in person. Still, the numbers are far from unanimity. The survey shows one per cent of Canadians saying they would prefer to use an app to break up with someone, and higher proportions would take this step through an email (four per cent), a text message (seven per cent) or a phone call (also seven per cent).

There is not much of a gender gap when dealing with the challenge of calling a relationship off. However, more than one in 10 Canadians aged 18 to 34 (11 per cent) say they would rather break up with someone through a text message.

Canadians approach other more impersonal endeavours differently. When asked how they would order food delivery to their home, the same proportion of Canadians expressed a preference for making a phone call (39 per cent) and using an app (also 39 per cent). The explosion in app use to find lunch or dinner is commanded by the two youngest generations: 53 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 34 and 47 per cent of Canadians aged 35 to 54 prefer this route. Conversely, more than three in five Canadians aged 55 and over (62 per cent) make a phone call to the restaurant of their choice.

There are some significant regional differences on app usage for food delivery. Alberta and Ontario lead the way (50 per cent and 49 per cent respectively), followed by British Columbia (44 per cent) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (43 per cent). The proportions are decidedly lower in Quebec (26 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (18 per cent), where a majority of residents dial their orders in.

Banking has become remarkably easy over the past two decades, with Canadians going from the uncertainty of remembering a password to being able to deposit cheques with a smartphone. Still, there is a disparity between a task that is easily achievable away from the branch and needing to know a piece of information – especially during tax time.

We found that 37 per cent of Canadians would make a phone call if they had to ask a question to their bank. A slightly smaller proportion (32 per cent) would visit the branch in person, while significantly fewer would send an email (15 per cent), use an app (11 per cent) or send a text message (five per cent) to get a response.

The gender gap is more pronounced when the difference of a face-to-face meeting with a representative and a phone call is analyzed. Most women prefer to call the bank (41 per cent), while most men choose to go to the branch themselves (38 per cent).

Finally, when Canadians are asked about communicating with their municipality or city hall, 39 per cent express a preference for sending an email, while fewer select a phone call (33 per cent), an in-person meeting (20 per cent), a text message (five per cent) or an app (three per cent).

Once again, we see a severe generational fluctuation. Canadians aged 55 and over are fonder of the phone call to city hall staff (44 per cent), while the email route is more popular among their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (45 per cent) and aged 18 to 34 (42 per cent).

As the way we communicate continues to evolve, and the latter stages of the COVID-19 pandemic make us more predisposed to meet people in person, it is clear that there is no prevalent technology that Canadians favour for all tasks at hand. Significant majorities would not consider ending a relationship – with a person or an employer – unless they are in the same room. Our choices are more varied when dealing with banks, municipalities or restaurants.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from April 1 to April 3, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.