I get that question a lot. The expanded version is can we use cognitive design to create an online experience that is as rich and meaningful as face-to-face interaction? While there are a few exceptions, my general answer is yes. And in some ways we can create something much better!
To make the case I am always on the look out for scientific studies that explore the issue, especially ones that look at cognitively-deep interactions. For example, a recent article in the Journal of Internet Medical Research examined how well we can create the mental health therapeutic experience online. How well does e-therapy work compared to in person treatment? Here is what the researchers found:
”Although the results do not allow firm conclusions, they indicate that e-therapy seems to be at least equivalent to face-to-face therapy in terms of therapeutic alliance, and that there is a relationship between the therapeutic alliance and e-therapy outcome.”
This is based on a review of 849 studies of which only 11 dealt with the therapeutic relationship. Not a big sample so the authors are calling for more research. No matter, this finding is surprising given the importance of non-verbal information in conducting mental health therapy.