The world can be a challenging place, and in a world like today’s, the most challenging part can be managing the interactions we have with others every day – especially as those interactions exist almost entirely online.
As social media has developed and become more prominent, I have found it difficult to find my feet and join the right “communities” online. The online world has often felt cold and distant to me. I find the larger-than-life characters and profiles of influencers, models, and celebrities all staring back at me each day. Confronting and impersonal, I struggle to believe that anyone is truly being themselves online at all.
I especially found coming to terms with social media difficult when faced with the challenge of comparing my “real” friends with the profiles I was accustomed to seeing online. I know who my friends are because of the time I spent with them growing up. I’ve seen them make up free, all their bad angles and sassy attitudes and imperfections. The profiles I see online are their superior selves, and I find myself wondering if all I had to go on was the online person, would I even be friends with them at all?
As a die-hard introvert, I feel most at home in my bed, curled up with a book, far away from people and crowds, and the eyes that I worry judge me as much as I judge myself each time I look in the mirror. Because of this, I have struggled to make friends for most of my childhood and adult life. The few close friends I do have know me better than anyone else, and I have worked really hard to keep them close to me. This isn’t to say I can’t socially interact at all. At a superficial level, I can hold a conversation with a stranger at work, make small talk, and ask questions like, “How was your weekend?” or “Any plans for the holidays?” or “Yeah, I’m tired too!”
I have been a part of enough of these conversations that the words feel almost mechanical in nature. A routine to be repeated every Monday or Friday in the staff kitchen to simply avoid the silence. The issue I face is that I actually quite enjoy the silence. This can make for awkward situations when the usual extraverted person can make conversation while I struggle to string a sentence together that isn’t rude, or too personal or cocky, or anything that could be taken the wrong way.
I panic about these possible conversation scenarios constantly in my head, trying to mentally prepare in case something pops up and I have to suddenly answer a question beyond my programmed responses.
Over time, I’ve learnt to manage these workplace interactions and maneuver my introverted self through work morning teas, Friday drink offers, and birthdays. I feel almost comfortable with how I hold myself in these interactions now although I do my best to avoid them altogether where I can.
What I am yet to fully grasp is how to present myself online.
I am the person who notices when my friends comment things like, “Omg you look so pretty!” on our mutual friend’s profile picture yet only find the time to “like” mine. I pick up on tags on Facebook – photos from their busy weekends and throwback holiday pictures and the way they style their captions. I then review my Instagram feed of books, occasional selfies, and my dog and wonder if I’m presenting myself correctly.
I struggle with comparing myself to the people I see online. I don’t crave the outgoing lifestyle, the trips away, or weekly drink catch-ups, but I do feel the FOMO rising inside me when I see it play out online.
Social media has never been a healthy place for me, and I know a lot of it stems from my difficulty to reach out, to play the act that Instagram and Facebook create, and to say or like all the right things. I barely know what the “right” things are in real life, let alone online.
So, as I write this I consider my 148 followers on my Instagram profile and wonder which of them actually care what I post. I sometimes feel obliged to post something for them, to interact and connect in a way that I simply don’t in real life. As if my followers have been waiting with bated breath for an update on my life! But then at the same time, it feels inauthentic to post a picture of anything when I could text my good friends instead to see what they’ve been up to.
Social media is made for extroverts, for people who connect easily, can make friends and create 101 superficial relationships and feed off of others energy. For me, I struggle with this persona. If I was truly honest online, I wouldn’t be online. I simply don’t have the energy to make new connections, talk to people constantly, or share too much about myself.
But in this day and age, everyone is online. It is normal to have an account of every social media platform. To post about your brunch, that walk you took, your breakup, or what your listening to right now. To be apart from this world is to completely distance yourself from society entirely.
So I do my best to find a balance. To share enough, to stay with the times of modern communication but also not pretend to be someone I’m not.
There is a balance in social media to be found, if you know where to look.
Since discovering “bookstagram” I’ve been able to interact (on the edges because let’s be real I’m not about to just start chatting to new people!) with a world that I enjoy and mingle with my interests. I can see authenticity in people’s profiles, and a new edge to the content I see online.
I’m not about to join a book club in real life, but I do enjoy seeing people review new books online and make suggestions for me to look into!
I try to post, like, and interact where I can but I also don’t live online and I remind myself often that the person I am in real life wouldn’t speak to every person on my floor at work every day so the person I am online also doesn’t.
I try to be as true to myself as I can online as I am learning to be in the outside world as well. Being introverted isn’t a bad thing. There is a way for me to interact with the extroverted world around me without becoming overwhelmed or uncomfortable, and I enjoy that balance.
Still don’t think I’ll be making TikToks any time soon!