Using social media is an extroverted activity. Voicing your opinion on Twitter, posting a photo on Facebook and concocting a self-advertising post on Linked in all takes some degree of confidence. You are exposing the little Avatar of yourself to the outside world – to people you may know, but more often don’t know. There’s something very self-conscious about it. All social media users are essentially selling a product, or themselves. As an app developer I’ve needed to post about my new apps and discounts to a public that I don’t know, and get very little feedback from. I don’t enjoy selling. I enjoy making.
I think all human beings need feedback from other humans in person, so the digital space often leaves us feeling empty – like isolated beings in outer space, desperate for others to pick up our radio signal. But sometimes all we hear is our own echo.
So how do I use social media? Cautiously, and with trepidation.. As a British introvert, I consider myself a double introvert. We Brits find it hard to sell ourselves because, as a culture we find it uncool to boast about one’s achievements, and this is a problem when social media requires a double effort to be heard. If you’re only a digital hologram you’re transparent for a start, and you have no tone of voice, smell or charisma: all you have is a bunch of text and pictures to get your message across.
Peering over the wall
I actually get a burst of fear as I open Facebook, which feels to me like a Pandora’s box full of faces all jostling for love, admiration and attention at the same time. I can almost hear the sound of real noise coming from my avatar friends, who are jostling for attention. To visualise it, it is like peering over a wall, overlooking a bustling Hollywood pool party. Everyone’s at their best and super confident. I hope not to be seen, but I cling there in an addicted trance, browsing the list of my most extroverted friends projecting perfect world syndrome until I can take no more of the clamour and close the app to make it all vanish.
The social networks all have a different feel to them. Twitter is a like a tech party on a swanky high rise building full of cutting edge cool people who make me feel a bit out of place. Do I belong here? Am I clever enough to join in the conversation? Instagram is an easier ride, since it’s a vanity contest full of equally self centred narcissists who don’t know each other. Surely no one can be jealous of strangers can they? Apparently yes, and especially for insecure teenagers who are getting a distorted version of reality at an early age.
Essena O’Neill, an Australian teenager with over 500,000 Instagram followers has bravely quit the platform, describing it as “contrived perfection made to get attention”, and called for others to quit social media. On 27 October she deleted more than 2,000 pictures “that served no real purpose other than self-promotion”, and dramatically edited the captions to the remaining 96 posts in a bid to to reveal the manipulation, mundanity, and even insecurity behind them.
But can you really blame Instagram for the culture that it created? I think not. The company created a great photography tool, but at the end of the day it’s how people use it that’s shallow, false and empty. A photographer made a great spoof of the site called Socality Barbie.
I realise the only time I post now is if I’m travelling and have some exotic landscapes to share. Since I feel they must be special enough to be ‘worth’ posting, then I can bare to reveal myself for this short period before dropping down from the wall again for a few weeks or months.
When I need to promote myself for work or tell people about my products I use a ‘hit and run’ approach. A few quick posts here and there. That should do it. But don’t expect me to hang around for a ‘like count’ or a conversation. Sorry, I prefer the real thing.
If you feel that you fall into the introvert category, although no one can be fully introvert or extrovert, watch Susan Cain’s TED talk on the Power of Introverts. She believes Introversion is about how you respond to stimulation. “Extroverts crave large amounts of stimulation, while introverts feel more alive, switched on and more capable when they are in a low key environment.”
What the social networks have proved is that humans are social animals and need to express themselves. We need to communicate in some way and be heard. Why am I writing this Blog after all? Even introverts need an outlet of some sort. Perhaps the answer is even simpler. As Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons simply puts it: “we do everything to be loved.”