Introversion and Online Friendships
The other day, one of my extrovert (extravert?) friends asked me a question that prompted a lengthy and stimulating discussion:
“Do you think the internet and its ability to connect people makes it easier for introverts to connect in ways they are more comfortable with/are more conducive to their personalities?”
I was reluctant to speak for all introverts, but it sure does for me. Introversion is now a “thing” because the internet makes it easier.
Introverts find each other more easily and quickly, and we have more time to think about ideas and respond to them, compared to the immediate reactions necessary in face-to-face or phone conversations. Nearly all interests are represented online, so someplace offers at least a chance of meeting someone with something in common. Online communication cuts through social “red tape.” People can talk about things that actually matter to them, instead of going through the ritual of small talk and “So…what do you do?” Introverts can get to the “good stuff” of a conversation without draining social energy as quickly.
My friend said (over Gchat, interestingly enough), “I can never really get a vibe from talking to people online…I actually feel really claustrophobic trying, because I feel like I cannot convey a real sense of who I am.”
That triggered something in my head. I feel that way too: it’s the main reason why online dating does not work for me. I can’t sufficiently convey who I am online. On a dating site, I become extremely judgmental, both of myself and the potential dates. I get overwhelmed with how I come across to other people, because that is specifically what I’m there for, to “market” myself. And I suck at marketing.
When I am most comfortable online, when I make the best connections with other people, I’m not thinking about myself at all. I didn’t start a blog to meet other people. I started a blog to help process my thoughts, tell entertaining stories, and put my ideas out into the world. I don’t have to try to convey a sense of who I am, I just have to be articulate about what I’m talking about at the time. I joined Tumblr to make it easier to find and save pictures of sexy British actors, and I joined Twitter because of politics. I have met new people in all of these online venues, but it’s always been secondary.
I don’t usually make connections when I’m specifically looking for them. When I do, I get anxious and self-conscious and try too hard. When I’m really into a conversation with someone online, I don’t think about what it says about me, and I’m not worried about what I sound or look like. I’m not really thinking much about the other person, either. We’re talking to each other about C.S. Lewis, or Frozen, or Benedict Cumberbatch, or being an INTJ, and loving it. It’s not about either of us at all, and that’s why it’s more fun and freeing.
As I was telling my friend this, I realized that I was literally describing Lewis’ definition of friendship in The Four Loves. In the friendship chapter, he writes,
Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”
With the internet, it’s easy to find that you’re not the only one.
That is why those pathetic people who simply “want friends” can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise … There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice.
I know I’m repeating myself a bit because I quoted this chapter in my similar post about how important fandoms have been to my relationships. In that same chapter, Lewis says,
For of course we do not want to know our Friend’s affairs at all. Friendship, unlike Eros, is uninquisitive. You become a man’s Friend without knowing or caring whether he is married or single or how he earns his living. What have all these “unconcerning things, matters of fact” to do with the real question, Do you see the same truth? … No one cares twopence about anyone else’s family, profession, class, income, race, or previous history. Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end. But casually. They will come out bit by bit, to furnish an illustration or an analogy, to serve as pegs for an anecdote; never for their own sake.
Online friendships are best made when you don’t overthink it–and especially when you don’t overthink yourself. I think that applies to a lot of other areas of life, too.
By the way, my E friend (not to be confused with e-friend) asked her original question because she had watched that “Look Up” video that has been making the Internet rounds. We had a conversation about that video specifically, which I will address in my next (or at least future) post.