Introversion and the Virtual Community

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.)

Introverts Unite!

There’s my rallying cry.

Susan from The Confident Introvert posted a comment on my angst-ridden Hermit post. I checked out her blog. This is a woman who speaks my language.

In addition to her insightful posts, she links to a 2003 piece in The Atlantic Monthly entitled, “Caring for Your Introvert,” which helped me re-learn about myself, and learn a few new things, too, like why I enjoy speaking to large groups of people but feel overwhelmed in small groups. Actually, it didn’t explain why that was, just that often that’s the case with introverts. I like having a podium between me and a crowd. I do fairly well “working” a crowd. I always volunteered for these tasks back in my full-time working days, and I’ve always felt like I must be a “fake” introvert because of this, but apparently it’s fairly common for people who feel comfy in front of a hundred people to feel totally awkward in front of ten or fifteen.

Buoyed by Susan’s blog and her confidence as an introvert, I want to dedicate myself to living as my authentic, introverted Self. I can request to have a smaller, more intimate get-together with one or two moms rather than going out with a group to a restaurant or to an all-request piano bar (which turns out to be a variation of Hell for me). If I go to hear live music, I can make sure it’s a small venue with a corner I can hide in so I don’t feel so exposed. I can give myself permission to just stay home with a book or my blog if I need to recharge. And I can let myself leave the silences I’m accustomed to leaving in conversations as I consider what the other person has just said and what my reply should be. If other people fill in that silence without letting me speak, I suppose they don’t really need to hear what I had to say anyway. I can always blog about it later.

As an introvert, my facial expressions and body language are more subdued and often misinterpreted. A friend posted pictures of the homebirth of her second son. There’s a picture of her holding her baby for the first time, with her head thrown back, and smiling so large you can see all of her teeth. She’s clearly overjoyed. The picture of me holding my son for the first time shows me with furrowed brow, looking very serious at this little creature in my arms. I can assure you, the emotions I was feeling were closer to what my friend was expressing. I was absolutely elated. I still feel ecstatic when I think about my awesome homebirth. I just don’t show so many teeth when I think about it.

When I mentioned this difference to my friend, saying that I loved that picture of her and the emotion she expressed, but that I’m just not that emotive, she said, “Well, that’s something we’re going to have to change!”

I hadn’t really thought there was anything wrong with my reaction to my son’s birth until then, but I found myself agreeing with her that I should be more emotive. I’m choosing now to go back to feeling fine about my reaction as it was. This was me at my most authentic, my most exposed but also my most comfortable, confident, and powerful. I don’t want to change anything about that.

Are you an introvert? Are you ready to unite to help educate the extroverted world about our unique skills and offerings simply by not backing down from acting like ourselves?

Susan asks on her blog, “Are you with me?” I sure am. How about you?

Hermithood is Looking Better and Better

The habitation of a hermit

Instead of an RV, maybe I need a hermit hovel. (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m fretting about Friendship/Social Life Month in April more intensely and much earlier than I’ve fretted about the other months so far. I fret about all of them because I’ve inherited the fretting chromosome and it’s just what I do. But this one has me positively vexed.

My experiences Sunday didn’t help.

First, I took the kids to church. That worked out fine. My son wanted to get up and sit down and flirt with the people behind us and then vigorously sign and shout, “Poo-poo!” in the middle of the service. Luckily, we were at the Buddhist Temple. Those Buddhists are really tolerant. So even though I started to get all uptight about my toddler’s shenanigans, I stayed cool, and we had a great time. My daughter said she “LOVED it!” and can’t wait to lead The Golden Chain and The Promise with the rest of her Dharma School class in two weeks.

After a quick lunch at home, I left the kids with my husband and went to yoga. It was super crowded. The practice was nice. Fun. Challenging. But I was left wanting somehow.

Back at home, I quickly changed clothes, nursed the baby and changed his smelly diaper before hopping back in the car and going with a friend to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 at the dollar theater. The theater was packed, which I found quite surprising. I mean, the movie’s been out since November. Were there that many other people who hadn’t seen it before, or did the others there simply have nothing better to do than to sit through a movie they a) have already seen, and b) can’t pause when they need to pee?

After the movie, I felt out of sorts. I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong. I liked the movie. I liked the conversation with my friend in the car there and back. But something was just missing.

I got home and my husband had made dinner and the baby kissed me and kissed me when I picked him up and my daughter asked us what “judgmental” meant, which pleased me. But I was in a really crappy mood nonetheless. Surly, on-edge, short-tempered, snapping at people. A real joy to be around, I’m sure. I remember my mom complaining that I was like this after spending too much time away with my friends when I was a kid.

My best guess is that my crummy mood was because I was out in public so much today. I didn’t have any quiet time in which to recharge, and then the day was done and I was spent and had nothing left to give to the family.

On the one hand, it’s nice to recognize this. As GI Joe used to say, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.”

On the other hand, what the heck does this mean for Social Life Month? My goal is to deepen friendships and to increase happiness in social relationships. How do I do this and still maintain a balance between those interactions and my alone time?

I’m tired of reading books about how important it is to have a number of close relationships outside of your immediate family, but that don’t offer any help for those who most times prefer to be alone. What does this mean for people like me who seem to have a different definition of “close friend,” one that would limit this designation to one or two people? Are we just destined to have high blood pressure and shorter life spans because we’re not social butterflies? I suspect that the research supporting these claims is being done by extroverts.

In the past I operated under the assumption that if I met enough people and became friends with enough people, I would eventually get down to the one or two with whom I really clicked, and they’d be the people I spent most of my time with. It hasn’t really worked out that way, and I’m looking for a paradigm shift.

How do you make friends? Do you just have the same friends you’ve had since your bassinets were next to each other in the hospital nursery, or are your friends those you’ve acquired as an adult? Do you have lots of people you consider close friends or just one or two especially close friends? How did you end up with your circle of friends? And, if you’re introverted, how do you balance time with friends with your alone time?

Is it really necessary to have friends outside of my marriage to be happy?