Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Introvert and the World Wide Web

Perhaps this topic has been analyzed to death, but when I was getting acquainted with the Internet about 10 years ago, people didn’t talk much about the social effects. I am not going to go into pornography or anything like that; this is more about social skills and emotional intimacy.

I’ve come full-circle with some of the features of online socializing, and wanted to share some of my impressions.

For a shy person, the Internet was a life-changer. It felt like it leveled the playing field where before we would have had no chance mixing and mingling with a variety of people; getting past that first “hello;” jumping into a conversation amid the extroverts and loud talkers. read more/-

There were many opportunities that it added to my social life:

1)    Ease in initiating conversations

-who wants to make the first move? Not me! I don't even know where to start! What if the other person is busy, uninterested, etc? Don't even get me started about making phone calls. But online...shoot out a quick IM or email, and you can strike up a conversation pretty easily.

2)  Greater boldness in expressing myself

-the inhibitions were suddenly gone. I could joke, flirt, and make quick come-backs, as well as get into a variety of deep discussions which could last for hours. Somehow it didn’t tire me as much as social events in “reality” where I could only last an hour or two. The “real” me?

3)  More frequent contact between meetings

-who wants to wait until Sunday for the next youth group meeting? Or until third period on Monday?  It could take the whole meeting for me to warm up and then it would be time to go home. But with the Internet I could just hop on for a few minutes and check in with everyone. I could find out information and make social plans quickly.

-instant attention: In times when I wanted to talk to someone, I didn't need to wait until someone was free to lend a listening ear. Someone was sure to be online...

4) More contact with people who are far away

-how else could I stay in contact with those friends I met at a conference; the relatives on another continent; the friends allll the way down the hall of my dormitory? :)

5) Time to think (e-mail)

-while chatting required answering quickly, I could easily stall and avoid an awkward question. Emails, meanwhile, could be answered at my own convenience, when I had had the time to consider everything very carefully and create the best possible response.

Eventually, however I realized that the benefits themselves had the potential to become harmful.

1)    Ease in initiating conversation

-but what happened to someone calling you up specifically to talk about something, or to invite you to go somewhere? He/she had to find YOUR number and call YOU. The spontaneity began to depress me. Online we strike up conversation with whoever is available, whenever we happen to have the time.
It’s fun, but at the same time you can never be sure if someone is genuinely happy to “spend time” with you or if he/she is just bored. Which is not to say that chatting with friends is a bad way to cure boredom or loneliness. But it still drifts into the realm of “passive” relating.  Let’s sit here and see if anyone interesting will show up…rather than going after it, pursuing fellowship with a specific person.

-And besides that, how do you know if the other person is smiling when you’re smiling? What do the pauses mean? What if one person is multi-tasking while the other is seeking a deep conversation?

2) Greater boldness in expressing myself

-Boldness? I miss my “filter” that comes from being shy. I rarely fear saying something stupid out loud, but on the Internet it all “hangs out.” Everything is focused on drawing attention to myself.  I share extraneous details, pursue relationships that without the Internet would have seemed pointless. I jump into conversations where I should refrain from participating.

3) More frequent contact

-The frequency of the exchange of virtual words means that the real-life encounters stop being so special. You might even wish for them to be over so you can get back to your virtual life. Instead of developing my weaker skills, I was bypassing them for something that came more naturally. I needed to put away the stronger muscles for a little while and work on the weaker ones.

4) More contact with people who are far away

-I don’t want to sound like I regret being in touch with all of my beloved ones who are far away. And it is great fun to reconnect with people whom I haven’t seen for ages. But if I am focused on writing emails all day and trying to keep up with all the news, I neglect those who are close to me. This includes blogging. Dare I pour out my feelings to near strangers, if I haven’t shared them yet with those close to me? There is so much to learn from and share about with all my friends near and far, but I have to prioritize.

5) Time to think

-What if my first reaction is a smile, which a conversation partner will not see through the computer screen? Or what if it is a frown, or even tears? How will people know what upsets me if I can delay my response until I’ve calmed down? Being able to hide and calculate every word is not always a good thing.

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