It’s a common misconception that shy people are always introverts. So much so that most people use ‘shyness’ and ‘introverted’ interchangeably when in fact they’re completely different things.
Introverts are people who get their energy from being alone. (So while they may like people, they need time alone to re-charge.)
Shyness on the other hand is the awkwardness or apprehension some people feel when approaching or being approached by other people.
I consider myself a bit of an authority on both these traits because sadly, I tick both boxes. Yes I am one of those individuals who finds people tiring, AND is also awkward and apprehensive around new people.
It’s not easy being a shy introvert. I am actually a really sociable person who is fascinated by people. And when I am in a setting where I feel comfortable, I love a chat as much as the next person. But the older I get, the less inclined I am to leave the house if it involves meeting up with people I don’t know very well. I have lost count of the invitations I have politely declined. Or accepted and then cancelled at the last second, all because I couldn’t muster the energy to fake being ‘not shy’.
Then social media came along.
It may sound pathetic, but platforms like twitter and Facebook changed my life. They allowed me to interact with people I’d never met by removing the barriers shyness and introversion erect. Here’s how:
1. They eliminate small talk
If there’s one thing both shy people and introverts loathe, it’s small talk. I’m happy to chat away about a subject I’m passionate about, but I really hate talking just to fill silence. I’m terrible at it, and it makes me feel anxious.
The great thing about social media is people don’t do small talk. They have conversations. And I can pick and choose which conversations I’ll join (the ones where I have something useful to add).
2. They let me observe from a distance
If I stood on my own at a gathering, observing everyone to get a feel for who I’d really like to talk to:
- I’d look like a loser
- People would wonder what was wrong with me.
But on social media I can sit back and observe for as long as I like before trying to talk to anyone. I was an observer on twitter for a good two months before I decided to join in on a conversation. And when I did, it was with people I was fairly sure would talk back.
3. They let me interact as much or as little as I feel like
Some days I have a lot of energy to interact with people, and some days I have none. But I still like knowing what’s going on in the world and in people’s lives. (Yes, I’m nosey).
Social media lets me keep tabs on everyone (in a fairly non-stalkerish kind of way) without actually having to interact with them. So when I don’t feel like talking to anyone, it stops me feeling isolated.
4. They let me get to know people without having to talk to them
Speaking of talking to people, I have an amazing friend who can figure out the most interesting thing about a person within a minute of meeting them. It’s such a great skill, and one I’ve tried to learn without much success. The truth is, when I meet new people I’m too busy being anxious and trying not to look like an idiot. There’s no room to get creative with my conversation and find out about the person I’ve just met.
Social media lets me get to know people on my own terms. I need time to think about every reply I make to a new person, and that’s not possible face-to-face. Happily, as I become comfortable with new people over time, I don’t have to spend so much time thinking. And eventually I can even talk to them in real life without too many dramas
5. They’ve let me expand my networks far beyond my comfort zone
In the old days (pre-2005), making new friends was hard work. Given I am completely unable to initiate conversation with someone I don’t know, I did a lot of sitting around waiting for people to talk me. And of course, meeting new people meant actually going out and being around people all the time, which I found exhausting.
Social media has been amazing for me with regard to finding other writerly and bloggy people. It’s given me access to like-minded people all over the country and it gave me the opportunity to meet cool people right here in Perth. People I would never have met otherwise because networking events and the like are My. Worst. Nightmare.
So as you can see, I have a lot to thank social media for. Essentially it allows me to be the best version of me because it removes the things that cause me to be socially inept.
It can however cause a bit of dissonance when I meet people in real life who only know me from online. I often wonder if it is a bit jarring for them to be confronted by a quiet and shy little thing when my online personality is anything but! So I will call it right now – if you are heading to the Problogger conference in September and we’ve never met in real life, I apologise in advance. It will take a while for the online me and the real-life me to meet in the middle somewhere that we are both comfortable
Are you shy too? Has social media helped with this at all? What happens when you meet your online friends in real life?! Share your thoughts in the comments