Let’s start off today’s post with a fact: I am an introvert.
Sometimes I tell people this, and they don’t believe me, because they equate being “introverted” with being “shy,” and I am not (usually) a shy person. I then explain that being introverted means that I am energized by being alone and constantly interacting with people, though occasionally enjoyable, tends to leave me feeling drained.
Why am I mentioning this?
Because when I came across the NPR article What Gets Lost in Our Carefully Crafted Online Conversations, I thought about how the ability to take the time to craft online responses is similar to how I tend to interact with most people in the world.
For example, when I write my blog posts, I spend time thinking about them beforehand, for hours or even days. I think about how I want to present the topic, sometimes writing different versions and piecing different points together. I carefully think about what I’m going to write before I write it, just as I consider what I’m going to say before I say it.
Part of this is my personality—in general I tend to not just blurt out what I’m thinking, especially not in front of most people. Sometimes this is good (and I don’t sound like an idiot), sometimes it’s bad (and I’m not paying attention like I should, or I miss my window of opportunity to make a point), but it’s how I prefer to communicate. Because, really, who likes to sound like an idiot?
So when this article talks about how people like online communication because they can “compose” what they want to say first, I relate to that.
The problem for me comes in where the article talks about how online communication hides human flaws, while face to face communication puts them out in the open. This is because people are able to pick and choose their online persona, and bypass anything negative.
First of all, in conversation, we still try to hide our flaws. We design our comments for our audience, and we generally want to come across in a positive light as much as possible. Others will make judgments about us, based on how we talk, but we still try to adapt what we say so they will like us.
Second, I have read and seen plenty of online communication that mentions less-than-positive things. Sometimes it’s a comment about someone else. Sometimes, contrary to what the article would have us believe, people write negative things about themselves.
Finally, while in-person conversations are wonderfully messy, online communication is not without its problems either. We can still be misunderstood and misinterpreted. And what’s written on the internet never truly disappears, while the specifics of what someone said are more often remembered through the filtered hearing of the recipient(s).
An online persona is one of the many masks we now have at our disposal, but it’s far from the only one.