Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Introverts and Online Interactions

I subscribe to a couple different introvert-centered blogs, and recently ran across this post over at Introvert Zone.

To quote the main question being asked of the community (by an extrovert):
I’ve notice that amongst several of my introverted friends, they have a different persona when online. Introverted friends become more outspoken, mannerisms change drastically. Is is just my friends who are a special case, or do many introverts have the same situation? Or is it just a personal perspective, since I have difficulty separating my real life personality with internet personality?
First of all, for me, yes, I am much more comfortable with online interaction than I am with "real life" interaction, and have been since I was about ten or so. Many of my closest friends are people I met online or interact with the most online. So I feel like I definitely know what the original poster's talking about and I have answers to his questions.

The main point that I'd like to make to that poster is this: I have found that introverts don't necessarily change who they are online, they're just allowed to be who they are. The social trappings that follow us around, exhausting and infuriating us, don't exist as much in an online format. We can relax a little bit. We can be ourselves.

Off the top of my head, I can think of three distinct reasons why this is the case.

For one thing, there's less social obligation to speak. If you're in a room full of people and you never say a word, people eventually start looking at you strangely, start asking you questions directly to make you speak up. Online, that kind of pressure is lessened.

As an example, take RinkWorks, a fantastic online community I'm a part of that consists mostly of introverts. I am often in the chat room there all day long, but I may only be actively chatting for maybe an hour or so total. It's not at all uncommon for every single person in the chat room to be silent for a couple hours, until someone breaks the silence by posting an interesting link, and then it's silent again for another 45 minutes. There are people who sit in the room for hours and say only one or two things that entire time.

(Newbies who are used to more fast-paced chat rooms are thrown by this. We occasionally get somebody who wanders in, and says, with 20-30 seconds between each post:
why is no one talking?
man this place is dead
And then they leave.)

This, to me, means I am more comfortable actually speaking up. The pressure to "say something" often leads to me saying stupid things, or just clamming up and refusing to say anything at all because I'm afraid I'll say stupid things. Take the pressure off, and I became much more relaxed, much calmer, and much less nervous about speaking up.

Secondly, when I do have something to say, I can work out exactly how I want to say it. Many introverts are seen as having nothing to say, when really, they're just still processing how to say it. Online, this is not as much of an issue. Introverts often express themselves best in written form because it lets them work out the words they want to use without having to constantly verbally backtrack. What I say is precisely what I mean to say online. I have stated it so that there is little danger of it being misunderstood. Online interaction is the perfect answer for those of us who only finish constructing our replies after the conversation has moved on to something else.

Online forums are brilliant for this. You can answer a question days after it's been asked, and it's not any sort of social faux pas. Even in most chat rooms, returning to an earlier topic with an answer is usually considered acceptable. You don't have to think fast to be able to participate, the way it often is in real life conversations.

Third, when I have something to say and know how to say it, I don't have to feel like I'm pushing my way into a conversation. People don't have to stop "speaking" to listen to me. My words are there for them to read whenever they want to. Or they can ignore my words. It doesn't matter to me, as long as I feel like I'm not intruding.

Obviously, there are situations where I feel like I'm intruding on an online conversation. I'm always hesitant to comment on a post somebody left on somebody else's Facebook wall, as an example. But, for the most part, online interaction is much more open to one-off comments from lurkers than real life interaction is.

Those three things together mean that I am far more comfortable in online situations. I don't have to grasp for meaningless words, I can say exactly what I mean, I can say what I want without getting in other people's way. As a result, I often come across very differently online than I do in real life. But while I occasionally hear arguments that online interaction masks the true self, I'd argue that the personality I exhibit online is the truest version of me. It's full of qualities I exhibit offline in situations where I feel comfortable and qualities that get hidden or lost when I am uncomfortable.

I'd love to hear thoughts from... well, pretty much anybody on this subject. Introverts, extroverts, members of other online communities, people who've never been members of online communities... does this sound familiar? Does it sound crazy? Do you think your online persona is the same or different from who you are offline? Let me know in the comments!

(Incidentally, if you're an introvert who likes online communication and think RinkWorks sounded awesome, feel free to wander into the chat room via my link.  Extroverts welcome as well, of course, but like I said, chat often moves slowly... so don't get impatient. We're friendly, though we are all grammar nerds and tend to insist in capitalization and punctuation, heh. If you do wander in, I go by ThePhan.)


  1. Replies
    1. *high five* Online friends forever! :)

  2. I kinda think I'm not that different online than I am in person, as long as I'm with people I like and there's not too many of them around. (Of course, those who've actually met me are free to disagree...) Though I certainly appreciate the ability the internet grants me to edit and proof-read the things I say, and I definitely say a whole lot less stupid stuff online. (I recently noticed I trip over my words/say stupid things/etc more often when talking if I'm walking rather than sat still.) Another advantage of the internet is that when I digress in the middle of a sentence, I can just stick it in brackets and finish it later, whereas in person I tend to get a couple of nested digressions deep and forget what the original point was.

    I definitely find large groups of people or people I'm not familiar with much, much harder to deal with in person than online, though!

    1. I'm in the same boat - in small groups I'm comfortable with, my online self and offline self are pretty much the same. I just hardly ever happen to find small groups I'm comfortable with RL interactions, heh, so that side doesn't come up that often.

      And I agree, the ability to digress is much more neatly tackled online in writing.

  3. I easily identify with each and every reason you gave here for why online interaction is so much more comfortable. I especially appreciated the point about being able to craft your response thoughtfully - something that ought to be more appreciated than it is.

    I could never get my wife to read my blog posts because she reasoned that if I had something to discuss, I'd just talk with her about it. I'm just as verbose and hard to shut up offline as I am online, so it wasn't an unreasonable hypothesis of hers. However, she never understood that there are plenty of things I have to say that I feel are best said in text, where my words can be organized differently and I can lead someone through my thought process with a different energy (and no interruptions).

    Back to the original questioner's curiosity, though, the stereotype of the Internet persona is someone who presents themselves online as they wish they were offline. Generally, we think of this as people who embellish their attributes, but I can easily see where introverts would instead embrace the chance to drop the facade they maintain offline...and in so doing, be the person they wish they were offline.

    1. I love when those close to me read my blog (I know my family and fiance do, at least on and off) because sometimes what I write can help clarify things I've said to them in person, as well as let them know what I've been thinking about, even if I haven't actually vocalized it.

      Every so often I read something that claims nobody is ever truly themselves online, that you can't get to know somebody until you spend time with them in person. I'd argue that the quickest and most certain way to get to know me as I really *am* is to befriend me online. While for most people the social norms and mores are ways for them to showcase themselves, for extreme introverts like me, they get in the way and shut us down. Remove those obstacles, and we are free to be ourselves.

  4. Another thing that does not often occur to extroverts is that introverts tend to be very selective about who to talk to and what to talk about, often preferring more substantial, deeper, or abstract communication. The modern world of the internet and even particular online communities are in fact whole "24-hour practically limitless people and conversation stores", which means that there are far more opportunities for an introvert to be motivated enough to engage the world outside his own head. That seeming surge of interaction activity on the part of the introvert can easily look like the introvert is now an extrovert...or an even more annoying perception, that the introvert is no longer shy or afraid to say something.

    I am not shy; I don't fear interaction or communication; and I am not an extrovert.

    1. That is absolutely true. There is much more opportunity for the online introvert to pick and choose not only their company, but their conversation topics. For many of us, once you get us talking about something we love, we can't stop talking :) And the Internet easily connects us to other people who have similar interests.