I’m not among the purists who insist that mobile devices and social media are signaling the end of civilization. The technological revolution is benefiting society in many ways. It’s benefiting me personally. If nothing else, the GPS on my phone means my pitiful sense of direction is less of an albatross than it once was; I spend far less time lost and spewing frustrated profanities than I once did.
As someone who, like many introverts, finds the telephone onerous, I feel liberated by texting. On a good day, I genuinely enjoy Facebook. (On bad days, I rue this access we have to other people’s ids. Some things I just don’t want or need to know.) There are times—i.e. long waits in the doctor’s office—when a pocket-sized entertainment center is a godsend. And any number of apps have become daily necessities in my life, from my banking app to Resistbot.
But I also realize that at times, the easy accessibility of the virtual world allows me to indulge my introversion to a degree that isn’t necessarily good for me. The invisible bubble I used to create around myself, as insulation from the boisterous world, is now a screen. I can be in the world but not engaged with it. Perhaps even when I want to be. Research finds that even when we’re face to face with other people, the mere presence of a smartphone can degrade the quality of the interaction.
That’s depressing. And it’s not who I want to be or how I want to live.
I don’t want my phone interfering with intimacy. I don’t want my friends to be little more than photographs, and my interactions carefully curated quips. I don’t want to be oblivious to what’s happening around me because I’ve retreated into a virtual world. I don’t want my conversations to be limited to what my two clumsy thumbs manage to bumble out.
These days, even email is more than most people want to bother with. Once upon a time, I had intense, philosophical discussions via email. These days, most people prefer texting. And often, even words seem too much bother, so they resort to emojis and images, perhaps with the new shorthand for emotion: TFW.
Even as I am intrigued by the shift communication is taking, this hurts my deep-thinking introvert brain. Is conversation being replaced by small talk? And by individual, isolated processing of images, shared only in the virtual world?
TFW you wonder if your essential being is obsolete.
The ability to communicate without face-to-face interaction is weirdly seductive to my introverted self. It’s so … easy. I can almost convince myself that I am completely in control of all my virtual interactions. I can almost believe that I have an active social life because I have an active social media life.
Until I start feeling bad. I start getting infuriated with people I know only in the virtual world or, worse, with people I genuinely like IRL. I realize the people I feel emotionally closest with are geographically far away. I find myself at a loss when I’m craving real face time with real humans in their flesh-and-blood form.
I imagine this post will generate pious reactions from people who have chosen to avoid social media altogether. To each his own, but I prefer not to be disconnected from one of the largest and most culturally significant developments in my lifetime. As it is, I’m only nominally on Twitter and miss a lot as a result. But Twitter stresses me out and gives me a headache. I’m active on Facebook and Instagram and that’s enough for me.
Still, like much of the First World, I’m having to learn how to engage in the virtual world without disappearing into it.
And so I try to give myself guidelines for my interactions. I’d call them rules, but then I’d have to admit how often I break them. Because right now, the spirit is strong but the flesh is weak. I’m not always as good at following my guidelines as I’d like to be. But still I try, on a regular basis, to…
I don’t say that extroverts are immune to being sucked into the smartphone. But I do wonder if, as introverts, we are at greater risk. In many ways, the retreat that technology offers is an introvert's dream come true. We just have to make sure it’s a dream from which we are capable of awaking.
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