Socially Awkward Media

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Everyone has a different reaction to the idea of participating or speaking up in a public forum, or sometimes even just in private. Some people have no problem doing it and flourish. I would think there is a quiet majority who cringe and open their mouths only when absolutely necessary. Which, totally off topic, raises the question:

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As a child, I was relatively quiet. I occasionally spoke up in class, but I was more comfortable showing my knowledge on exams or assignments. With friends, I usually let other people lead conversations.

And then came this:

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You should check out scandari’s blog post here that reminisces on how big a part of our lives AOL/AIM was. Instant messaging (IMing) changed the game for a lot of people in terms of social interaction. IMing was slow enough that people could take their time with their responses, not trip over their words and express themselves clearly, but at the same time it was fast enough that conversations would not be much slower paced than in person. Personally, I’m not sure if it’s because I felt safer behind my computer screen, or because I had time to think over my responses, but I definitely became more social. I would say for the most part, most of my friends were more social online.

The most notable trend that I took away from my time spent on AIM is that people showed sides of themselves that weren’t completely visible before. In high school, several of my friends told me that I sounded different on AIM than I did in school. I would say the same for many of my friends as well.

Obviously, a lot has changed regarding social media since the days of instant messenger, most importantly that the majority of people have abandoned AIM altogether in favor of Facebook Chat, but I think the underlying principle still holds. For example, an acquaintance from high school that was never talkative in person is one of the most active users I’ve seen on Facebook. Not only does she post a lot, but generally the subject matter of her posts are comical and provocative, and a new side of her emerged that people did not see before.

To be clear, I recognize that not everyone has been more social online as they are in person. After all, what you put on the Internet stays there forever, which can be daunting for some. I also think that as we mature we are finding the balance between our social interactions in person and online.

But why did a group of people who might feel socially awkward in person come out of their shell online, and in some cases, even show sides of themselves that were invisible before?

I’m sure a lot of you have different theories about why this phenomenon would happen with social media, but I would speculate that it’s because people have been given a microphone with which they can project their voice. Social media outlets are both the stage and the distributor of media at the same time, and the stage is set for the entire world to listen in. For many people, I see online social media as an outlet that they can feel free to be themselves. With AIM again as the example, it might be easier for some people to write their thoughts and feelings rather than express them in the spoken word.

Today, the “stage” can be altered in almost any way the social media user wants it to be. There are forums for almost anything online now. If a singer wants to use the internet to sing, he/she can post videos on youtube or other music friendly sites. An artist can easily post pictures and a writer can make a blog. And as the first video we watched in our first class of mi621 showed, if you want to just talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there’s a forum to talk about that to your heart’s content. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, or whether or not you are popular in school. All that matters is what you have to offer to the online community. If your offering is good, it will be received well.

Many classmates have already said that they don’t really use Twitter or Facebook to give updates about everything they do in their lives, and I do not use my social media in that manner either. The more I think about it, I don’t think social media is really intended to be a constant status update. I think the real use of social media comes from the sharing of links, information, and thoughts/discussions about topics that are important to us, and I think current platforms like Facebook and Twitter will continue to be useful as information networks. 

9 comments

  1. Interesting piece. It also makes me think about how we choose to represent ourselves online. How one can craft their own persona and play with identity. That’s not exactly what your’e talking about here, but it’s related.

  2. I agree that as we mature we find balance between social interactions in person and online. Different age groups have different perceptions and uses of social media. Like you said when I was younger I used AIM to chat with friends. As I have gone through high school and college I use social media to stay in touch with friends that are all over the country. Now that I am starting a career, I use it to network and build relationships to help me in the business world.

  3. Good piece David, it’s nice that social media can democratize social situations a bit more, I see the experience of my children in high school and their friends being vastly different in terms of social contacts and which students have influence. The playing field seems quite a bit larger.

  4. Great use of memes. Definitely had me laughing. It is really funny to think about how people become a completely different persona when they are online. In my opinion, people will become more social online because it allows them to let their guards down. It’s almost like the computer is some sort of barrier (not that true), but it is a lot easier to say something difficult/controversial online than it is to say in person.

  5. David, first off, great use of memes! Secondly, I think you bring up a good point. For many, social media provides a “safe space” in which people feel comfortable speaking their mind and sharing their opinions. I believe this to be true. However, the fact that what I say online stays online forever sometime causes me to be less social/comfortable. I find myself re-reading my blog posts more than my papers and editing my Tweets more than what I say to a friend because of the hightened consequences that come from publicy publishing my thoughts. You hit on a great aspect of social media. However, as people become more social, I think they should also become more cautions of the potential consequences.

  6. This is a really interesting article, David. And in response, I have a small trend that I’ve noticed in my life in the past few years. I have noticed that when I am more social on different digital platforms, I am actually more social in person as well. I feel like this is because on most of the platforms I am usually posting to, I am trying to make people laugh and that usually means being able to laugh at myself! When I am in a period of my life where I am purposefully spending time noticing the “funny moments” in my life in order to post them on Facebook or Twitter, it becomes habit and I naturally have that same mentality in physical conversation. I’m not sure if anyone else will agree with this, but like I said before, it is just a trend I have noticed within myself.

  7. Nice post and thanks for the shout out. I felt compelled to let the world know that AIM was absolutely huge in its day and obviously you agree. Having the time to carefully craft your responses while chatting with someone was something that I think a lot of people valued. The interesting cases were the ones where you had an in-depth conversation with someone on AIM and then saw them in person thereafter. Do you talk about the AIM chat? Haha. On a lighter note, there was nothing like putting up an away message that you thought was a masterpiece and returning to the computer to see if you got any responses. I actually can’t believe the amount of time we used to spend on AIM in college. The simplicity of the application is something that can’t be overlooked either. As I’ve seen others say, AIM kind of paved the way for what we are seeing today. A Facebook post or tweet is very comparable to an away message on AIM. The Buddy List is similar to Facebook “Friends,” people you follow on Twitter, etc.

  8. I definitely agree that some people become more social online because they have more time to formulate thoughts. When I was in middle school and high school, boys would AIM me that had barely talked to me in person before that moment. However, I feel that this has changed (at least for me) as I have grown up. I personally am definitely more social in person than online. Could this be because as we grow up, we just get better at being social and no longer need to hide behind a screen?

  9. I’m definitely one of those middle schoolers who was “more social” through IM when it was first popular. Then I gave it up late high school and college (because I like chatting IRL more), and then I was amazed that it came back into my life (via Skype chat, fb chat, and gchat) when I was in GRAD SCHOOL. I never really chatted online in undergrad, but everyone seemed to prefer it in grad school. Maybe my undergrad friends and I were just not that into it.

    Now, I just talk A LOT on both……. Though, I think I’m still working on how to really blend conversations online with conversations IRL. Like you mentioned at the end of your post, finding balance.

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