Friday, June 21, 2013

Missing Out

“Let's clear one thing up: Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people. We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.”   
- Laurie Helgoe, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength

I like to have friends as much as anybody else. But the number of friends I have, I can count with my fingers. They are friends who know me, warts and all, and who are open and genuine with me as well. Friends who I can connect with. The rest are acquaintances I don’t reach out to. And when our paths cross, we acknowledge, ask each other about our day, our families and move on. We might not quite stop to listen and engage. Nevertheless, friendly familiar faces make me feel like I belong.

I don’t make friends easily. I don’t do well when there are more than three people in a conversation. I am terrible at small talk. I can only talk so much about the weather and generalities. If we stay longer in a conversation, the topic of weather might transmute into how it affects my proclivities and how I am trying to cope by doing yoga and how that will make me a better person and how finally maybe I could somehow love what I do and how that will help me contribute something more meaningful to the community. Scary. Of course, I don’t go down the rabbit hole with every single person I meet. Only the unsuspecting ones... just kidding:-) Anyway, not many are comfortable or willing to delve deep into life’s conundrums in casual conversations. A lot of times we aren’t ready and willing to move beyond the level of an acquaintance.

When I do feel that our wavelengths match, nothing can quite stop me from gushing and sharing my thoughts. I feel the irresistible urge to connect, to spill my likes, dislikes and struggles so they know who I am on the inside and maybe it will help them look past my outside and realize we are all connected and then maybe we can talk over tea and make it a meaningful chat session. Yes, I know, weird.

A few years ago, I joined Facebook to find like-minded friends in cyberspace. My intention was to be in the loop for local events and meet interesting and inspiring people. I also got the chance to connect to friends from my college days. But connecting to friends who I meet in person often, nothing beats sharing a conversation over a cup of tea or a meal and for that I don’t need Facebook.

After the initial excitement of the possibilities of new friendships and reconnecting with old friends fizzled out, I found out that as much as I enjoyed the banter, I did not participate most of the time. I behaved in the exact same way as I would in person, among a room full of people. I showed my marked introversion by keeping quiet. If a question is directed at me in a group, I respond and try to engage more, but it felt forced and died down quickly.

My intermittent attempts to prompt friends to share their travel or work experiences, or opinions about books, movies, music, current stories on the news or whatever didn’t get very far. Not many, myself included, are curious about life’s seemingly ordinary moments that are in large part shaped by what goes on around us. So in a short time, it just became a place to post pictures of my travels (however rare an occurrence that may be) or birthday pictures of my kids or pictures of me after I spent what felt like hours screening through a gazillion of them to find the most flattering. I dutifully ‘like’d pictures, comments, links and status updates posted by friends and would comment on a few. But mostly, I would lurk.

Slowly I came to realize that I wasn’t comfortable sharing opinions. I was worried that I would alienate people in the group who don’t share my views. Or share my attempts and experiments in self-improvement or even respond to opinions in case I appear conceited or holier-than-thou. There is so much you can observe and sense in a face to face conversation that you miss out while on Facebook. That might explain my tendency to pepper my messages with emoticons - writing without a smiley face at the end of every other sentence is something I have to consciously work on.

I also started worrying that I will be judged for my attempts to express what interests me at the moment. I projected my best persona regardless of how crappy my day was. It is impossible to be genuine when you are being polite. In the same vein, I understand the reluctance of friends from afar to share their struggles with me. It is not my business. And I might judge them. Which are all valid assumptions. It goes both ways. Consequently, conversations seem a bit stunted.

A few safe questions usually don’t warrant deep answers ... unless of course they make a mistake of asking me in a private message, when I am in one of my introspective moods. What is just a casual prompt to shake me awake from my Facebook slumber would end up inadvertently awakening the nerd in me. ‘How are you’ or ‘What’s up’ sounds encouragingly open ended. Hmmm.. you sure you want to ask me that question??

And then there is this tricky business of accepting ‘friend’-ing invitations. Sometime I wonder if they even know me or if it is only because I am a friend of a friend of a friend - the term ‘friend’ in all instances of the link loosely defined. So every few months I purge my list of ‘friends’. If I haven’t had a conversation with someone within the last six months, they are ‘unfriended’. It might seem anti-social but I was bent on keeping the number of friends to under 40. Just typing that number, even if modest by Facebook standards, sounds ridiculous - to me and whoever knows me.

Once in awhile I post links to articles that inspired or affected me so much that I just had to share. But I started getting uneasy when I couldn’t help the tinge of envy I felt looking at the number of responses that my friends got to their posts compared to mine. And I began to wonder why I don’t generate as much interest or why I can’t be at ease as I am in a one-on-one conversation - either in person or in cyberspace. Comparison game is a black hole that I have to avoid being sucked into because that is the only way I know to play it.

To be fair, I don’t think Facebook was quite designed to elicit deep conversations. Sure it can be an effective tool to raise awareness or fight for a cause like some have and still do. But I can’t find a purpose for it. So I decided it is time to pull the plug. I deleted my Facebook account.

It took sometime to adjust to the fear of missing out, of not appearing cool or savvy. But there isn’t much I will miss not being on Facebook. While trying to prepare myself for the post-Facebook phase, a few weeks prior, I resisted checking out new notifications just because I was curious as to what others are up to or just because it was available at my fingertips or just plainly to kill time. Now, I will just have to pick one of the million other ways I know to kill time.

I have to constantly remind myself that I am not retreating to a cave, just opting out of one really popular social media site, which I find isn’t quite the space for me because of the way I am wired. I am sure glad I tried it but now it is time to end an experiment and begin another.

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