Friday, January 2, 2015

Introverts and Online Interactions (Vacation Repost)

Well, I'm off visiting my family in Illinois for most of this week, so we'll be reposting a few of my most popular blogs ever.

This particular one was first posted on February 6, 2013.

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!

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