My friend sent me a link to an article from 2002 entitled, “On the Internet, No One Knows I’m an Introvert”: Extroversion, Neuroticism, and Internet Interaction (Yair Amichai-Hamburger, Galit Wainapel, Shaul Fox. CyberPsychology & Behavior. April 2002, 5(2): 125-128. doi:10.1089/109493102753770507.)
The study looked at how forty users of internet chat viewed the importance of online interactions in relation to their personality characteristics (ie, was there a correlation between how people see their relationships online and whether they’re introverts or extroverts?). The conclusion of this small study: “It was found that introverted and neurotic people locate their ‘real me’ on the Internet, while extroverts and non-neurotic people locate their ‘real me’ through traditional social interaction.”
While I bristle a little bit at the grouping of “introverted and neurotic people,” this conclusion makes intuitive sense to me, at least as far as the “introvert” part goes. If someone does better with less stimulus and more processing time, it would make sense that online interactions would help them feel like they could be more like themselves (if, in fact, that’s what it means to locate one’s “real me”).
I generally think of my interactions online as “fake” and my interactions in person as “real.” But then I remember the number of times I’ve been misunderstood or negatively assessed by others based on my in-person self, and the number of times that a social situation has turned out very differently than I expected and I just could not figure out what had happened. I think about how disconnected from people I often feel in real life, despite Herculian efforts to push myself towards being a more social person, and I think online interactions can’t really be much worse, can they? It’s not like the alternative is a fruitful, amazing social life filled with warm and loving relationships. If it were, clearly online relationships would fall short. After all, when you have a baby, friends three states away with whom you interact hourly on Facebook can’t bring you lasagna.
A lot’s happened online since 2002, though. I wonder what differences would be observed if a similar assessment were made today. What percentage of bloggers, for instance, are introverts? What percentage of frequent Facebook users consider the face they present on Facebook to be their “real me,” and how many of those are introverts?
But I also wonder what that means for me as I put boundaries in place for my introverted child. If she’s likely to feel more like herself online, should I still limit that? Should I encourage her towards only in-person interactions until some as-yet undetermined age? I didn’t have e-mail until college (e-mail didn’t exist widely until I was in college) and still I had few deep relationships. Would access to e-mail have enhanced my closeness to others or hindered it? And would it be the same for my daughter?
I would love your feedback about this, online community. Do you feel more comfortable being yourself online than in person? Is your online community as strong as your in-person community? Is one more real to you than the other? Or do you find that your online and in-person communities fill different but equal roles in your life? I know I have friends I only speak with on the phone, friends I only interact with online but once knew in person, a couple of people I’ve only met online (I’m not sure if I can call them “friends”, but they’re kindred spirits at least), and even one or two people with whom I only interact via letter. (Yes, letter as in writing things down on a piece of paper and sending it through the post so that the person on the other end holds in her hand the exact same sheet of paper I once held in my hand.)