LONDON The sheer number of people we now encounter in the digital space on a daily basis is, to me, overwhelming.
As someone whose friends and family are spread around the globe, I am grateful for the possibilities that social media affords I FaceTime my mom everyday and participate in an ongoing multi-platform discussion on the (many) merits of falafels with my college roommate who now lives 3,500 miles away.
But there’s a point when the internet’s many communication channels stop being useful and become an extrovert’s tool for torturing the introvert.
Let me elaborate. When I receive a Facebook message, text, email etc., I meet the notification with a degree of anxiety and dread. It’s wonderful to hear from friends and family, but depending on the sender, it seems that a ticking bomb comes attached to the message. If I don’t reply within some unknown allotment of time, the bomb will go off, and I will have been complicit in the ultimate social atrocity.
My palms grow sweaty.
In my mind, I buy myself time from the obligation of responding until I open the message. “Oh, well she hasn’t read it yet” somehow absolves you from your crime for a period. But I ask, why is that better? Confession: I know you’ve sent it, and I acknowledge that you may have your own anxieties in awaiting my response I’m choosing to ignore it. I feel guilt, but also a horrible glee because why should you dictate my life?
You are stealing my precious people juice with your expectations.
At this point, I’m refusing to even read a message out of fear that I won’t have the the time or people juice to craft an adequate response to its contents within whatever arbitrary time period is socially acceptable. I’m on the verge of developing resentment towards a perfectly friendly offer to catchup over drinks on a Friday night, or damaging a professional relationship by ignoring the sender. I feel guilty, and I feel stressed by the accumulation of digital clutter in both my personal and work life that have human expectations on the other end.
This needs to stop, and the answer does not lie in fueling the instant gratification many have come to crave and even expect in the evolving mass addiction spawned by social media
Part of this sense of anxiety stems from the fact that there is no clear-cut communication etiquette for instant messaging platforms, and different people have different expectations. When I said that extroverts torture introverts using social media, I should clarify that I find it unlikely that the extrovert views the exchange in those terms. However, providing people who enjoy constant human interaction with a direct channel to people who don’t at times feels, well, sadistic. Don’t get me wrong introverts derive plenty of use from the internet. But if you remove the social distance allowed by the web and insist on immediacy, the largeness of social networks becomes potentially terrifying to the solitarily inclined.
Furthermore, in the digital space we lose the subtleties of body language and inflection present in face-to-face conversations an emoji only goes so far, and studies show people tend to interpret the expressions in drastically different ways. For the more introspective communicator, crafting an appropriate and thoughtful reply may be more of a priority than speed it isn’t fair to disregard this profound variation in personality.
The introvert faces an excruciating dilemma here: do they risk violating social codes, or betray their very identity?
A small aside: the workplace presents a different conundrum altogether when we venture into the protocol of professionalism. Addressing the finer points of email decorum and subsidiary communication tools in the office would warrant another piece altogether, so for now suffice to say that France has the right idea.
When you’ve known a person for a period of time and become familiar with their unique style of communicating, the anxiety lessens. My closest friends are very aware that lack of an immediate reaction or a simple ‘thumbs up’ reply is not a reflection of how I value them as individuals. Things start to get hairy when we enter the world of acquaintances, love interests, and fringe members of our social circles. The introvert faces an excruciating dilemma here: do they risk violating social codes, or betray their very identity?
It isn’t just the introvert that serves to lose out here, though. Any individual that doesn’t wish to be enslaved to a screen is impacted. Having the ability to communicate instantly certainly has vast benefits, but there is no line drawn as to where it ends. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Black Mirror, but walking through a city and observing every other head bent towards a screen has unnerving implications for our future. Granted, instant messaging is only a part of it, but I fear we risk feeding the technology addiction by pandering to this urgency in replying instantaneously.
A final thought in the interest of fairness: I will concede that at times I am an absolute pain in the ass in instances that warrant a quick reply, sometimes I could do better.
To that I say, I am truly sorry. And also, there is an archaic device known as a telephone where you can reach me in a prompt manner.