I’m an introvert. Hardcore. I play the game well and a lot my coworkers in particular might not even recognize it, but I’m not especially “social” and I generally am quite happy with my own company most of the time. This has a lot to do with my being an only child and probably has even more to do with the fact that I had very few friends in general until I got to college and have always felt very socially awkward. I never really absorbed that whole social interaction thing correctly, though I have gotten really good at “faking it” particularly though my long past working in retail and my current career, which involves a lot of collaboration, interaction, and public speaking.
I’ve been communicating online (often as my primary medium) for more than twenty-five years. In the late 1990s, back when this site was really popular, I carried on regular email correspondence with many, many people in many, many places. Seriously, there were few places in the U.S. I could go where I didn’t know someone within on or two area codes. Even then, though, it was all asynchronous. I was not hanging out in AOL chatrooms or message boards or IRC (except maybe to download pirated software or porn on the latter). It was all sort of “old school”: email using complete sentences, etc.
Things changed a bit when I got partnered. Frankly, I neglected a lot of friendships because I really only had so much “social” in me and I felt like I should probably be giving most of that to my partner. That’s not an unusual or bad choice but in retrospect, I do have some regrets about it. Between neglect and the fact that the website because less and less of a medium because people weren’t really interacting that way so much anymore, I found that I had a much smaller social circle ten years later when I found myself single again.
I tiptoed into social media while in grad school and eventually got pretty active on Facebook as a way of keeping up with friends, which was nice for quite a while. I also did Twitter, but that was always more about using it as a reading list and a place to promote content on the other site. I generally avoided much engagement in general on Twitter and didn’t really join in on arguments and heated discussions very often on any platform.
Mid-pandemic, in the summer of 2020, I suddenly swore off Facebook. There was some specific interaction that pushed me in that direction (oddly enough, I don’t remember exactly what it was) but it was something I had been thinking about for a long time. I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore; it started feeling like work. I liked the aspect of keeping up with friends, but so many of my friends were no longer posting anything personal to begin with. It was all either politics or memes about how awful everything was. And I already knew how awful everything was. I didn’t need to spend time doom scrolling my friends’ posts to realize that. About the same time, I swore off news sites for a good while too, and was basically only watching The National on CBC every night because it was less awful. I tried to unfollow or mute the friends who were the worst “offenders” but after a while I just hated logging on, so I stopped. And I sort of regret that too because I lost touch with a lot of people I really like. But I couldn’t do it anymore.
I stuck with Twitter, oddly enough, just because I could tailor it to my needs and curate what I read. And it was great for a few years. But then, as the Muskrat took over, that functionality went away, and with it went most of the small group of people I interacted with there. Twitter basically just blew up one day and was never quite the same. I stuck around for a year, not posting as much and not spending as much time there. There were still things I followed regularly (most of them related to history, architecture, and urbanism) but increasingly people who used to post interesting material were abandoning ship as Twitter became more and more of a sewer.
I should have joined the exodus last year. I didn’t. I’m doing it now. And I’m not sure which platform comes next, if any. I have an account on Mastodon, but I mainly repost things from Twitter and Flicker there to an audience that’s a fraction of what I had on Twitter and I don’t otherwise engage. Threads does not impress me and Instagram never did, so a return the Land of Meta is not in the horizon. I do Flickr sometimes, but that was always more about sharing photos (and hosting them for the site) than about socializing. And BlueSky? Who knows? Maybe I’ll just start getting better about adding content here again and conversing by email. Probably not.
The social aspect is hard. I’ve sworn off most social media, I hate talking on the phone, and no one corresponds by email anymore except for work. What’s left?
All of this is not to suggest that I don’t have friends whose company I enjoy and with whom I still interact regularly (in person, even). But I’m increasingly worried that my isolation may be growing, particularly since many of my closest friends live nowhere near me. I think this is a pretty common worry for us introverts and other “non-joiners” for whom online communication worked well until it didn’t.