Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Introversion/Extroversion and Social Media

Thanks to all of you who commented last Friday and this past Monday (on Memorial Day! You guys are dedicated and AWESOME). As writers, it seems like we're mostly an introverted bunch, but there are definitely a few extroverts and ambiverts (folks who are pretty much in the middle) here.

A few of you mentioned having had to face the whole "extroverted is better" thing, and that's definitely out there--in fact, in some diagnostic systems, introversion is considered a symptom of a disorder. There are plenty of folks who heartily disagree with that view, though, and there's even a book about it. Research shows extroverts do tend to be happier, but it also demonstrates that happiness is not the number one goal in life for introverts. Introverts brains are more active than those of extraverts, and this may be why more introverted individuals choose to spend more time alone than with others.

What a bunch of wallflowers we are.
Also--introversion is not shyness or social anxiety. These concepts overlap, but there are some key differences. Socially anxious folks will avoid parties because they are nervous about doing or saying something stupid. Shy folks might avoid those situations because they're nervous about having to introduce themselves or about ending up with no one to talk to. Introverted folks will avoid parties because they would simply rather be alone. Introverts can absolutely function socially and many of us don't really have a problem with it.

Now--what about social media? If you Google "introversion [or extroversion] and social media", you will find all sorts of conflicting opinions about who's using it and how well they're doing it. When I see that kind of thing, I head straight for the research.

What the research says: extroverts tend to use social media more than introverts.

That certainly makes sense to me. Extroverts crave social contact more than introverts, so when given another outlet for that kind of thing, they'd use it. Introverts have less need for that kind of contact, so they might not reach out.

However, I found some other stuff, too. I found (unscientific) polls indicating that a huge amount of social media users consider themselves introverted. I found several articles citing anecdotal evidence about introverts making great use of social media to measure and control their social contact--in other words, social media is a way for them to get their socializing done in manageable doses that don't overwhelm or irritate.

My agent
IS. Adorable.
Now, if you recall, I said I was pretty introverted. I actually didn't use social media at all until I was agented. However, I intentionally chose an agent who is extremely knowledgeable about social media so she could guide me in how to build an online presence. Interestingly, I asked Kathleen about this, and she said she's on the introverted side of the continuum despite her fabulous online presence as @KOrtizzle. She loves communicating with people online and in person--but absolutely needs her solitary time to charge up.

I had a few reasons for being invisible on the internet--first, I'm a psychologist and I do have clients, and there's a boundary issue there (would anybody be interested in hearing more about those issues in the future? I don't know how interesting that kind of thing is for people). But second, I just ... didn't see the need. I still don't do Facebook at all. I have my blog now, as well as a Twitter account. I've found a lot of joy and fulfillment in making contact with people through these avenues, and I love being a part of this community. For a group that tends toward introversion, we writers certainly do have a fun time, don't we?

I do find myself getting overwhelmed sometimes, though. I'm not a voluble Tweeter, and I often find myself watching more than I participate, which is just fine with me. I'm a lurker. And, unlike in-person situations, when I lurk online, no one really knows I'm there. Sometimes I like that. Sometimes I don't, and then I have to try to reach out--because otherwise, I'm totally invisible to people!

So--how about you? Are you more likely to socialize if there's a screen between you and other people? Are you on the reserved side, even as a social media user? Do you have an outgoing persona, or do your introverted/extroverted tendencies carry over to your online behaviors? Do you lurk, like me, or are you out there and involved? Has social media replaced any of your in-person relationships? Does it fill the same need? And do you get overwhelmed and turn it off sometimes--or not?

Also, it's Wednesday, and that means Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog! Check out Laura's blog (she's also an introvert, by the way), where she'll answer this month's question: How would you personify your muse?


  1. Well, my husband has complained that I spend so much time socializing on the internet -- on FB and Twitter and blogging and with my critique partners -- that I'm not particularly interesting in inviting people over and/or going out to parties. Maybe that's because, being shy (by your definition above), socializing by computer is easier for me. But maybe it's just because on the internet, I've found people with a common interest? The real, off-line people available for socializing are not writers. And if I'm online, that's mostly what I'm chatting about.

    I've heard it said that FB is for people who used to be your friends that you don't know anymore -- and Twitter is for people you don't know who ought to be your friends.

  2. I love that summary Dianne just gave up there. I do use Facebook, and in fact I have a separate account for my writing persona, but I'm not on it that much. My personal Facebook account is mostly for friends who still live places that I don't live anymore, but I'm not close enough with to call them.

    Blogging and Twitter do feel like great ways to connect with people I probably would be great friends with if I knew them in real life. That's probably why I enjoy them so much (blogging more than Twitter, but still).

  3. I started blogging for visibility as a writer, but the online writing community is so generous and supportive that I stay involved. Writing isn't my whole life, but it is certainly the part that interests me the most outside of my family, so that is naturally where I gravitated once I jumped into social media. I joined FB after dragging my feet for ages, and Twitter hasn't called to me yet--not because I'm being a snob, but I don't know where I'd find the time to add something else. My husband finds it amusing that while I eschew parties, I don't have a problem hanging out virtually. LOL Like Dianne, above, the people I interact with face-to-face are (mostly) not writers, but writing is what I love; so if I'm not spending time with the fam or actually writing, I like to spend time learning about my passion and discussing it with others who understand it. And like you...I am a lurker. A person learns a lot just by "listening." :)

  4. Well, I guess by your definitions, I'm shy. And that's why blogging works for me. I get to be who I am and say what I want without actually showing up in person. I just never realized that people would actually leave comments and how supportive that would feel. And I love to comment on other people's blogs.

  5. I'm going with Dianne's and Matt's answers. :D

    I have a FB account, but I don't use it. My blog goes through it and I friend everyone who friends me. Little do they realize that they're wasting their time if they're expecting me to dialogue with them that way. Blogging and Tweeting (I don't do that as much) keep me busy enough. I love commenting blogs. I also follow conversations through various RWA forums, but usually I'm just a lurker.

  6. I think it's interesting that 'introverted' people will embrace contact with others through a social networking forum just as much as extroverts. I wonder why that is.

  7. In our group, we have a mix. 2 are very involved online, and 2 have only just begun to dip their toes in the water through our shared blog (and that's all they really want to do).

    But the thing that's interesting is that even one of the most active online (Kristan) considers herself more of an introvert, in that she needs alone time to recharge. So, like you said, online activity/social media isn't necessarily indicative of being intro- or extroverted.

  8. Am I an ambivert? I think that must be what I am. I use FB all the time, but I don't have a million friends like some people I know. Like Matt, I use it to keep up with people I used to live near, or far flug family members. Hate Twitter. Love blogging. Lurk on forums. Won't miss parties with live people. ;)

  9. "social media is a way for them to get their socializing done in manageable doses that don't overwhelm or irritate"

    That is me to a T. Or whatever that expression is... Social media is great, IMO, because most of the time I'm active and love it, but when I need to shut down and just have some "me time," I can post that I'm on hiatus and disappear without hurting anyone's feelings. The same is NOT true for the people I know/socialize with in real life.

  10. I'm an introvert. In the right settings I can enjoy big events, but I tend to prefer quiet time by myself.

    I've had FB the longest, and I'm most comfortable there because I'm connected to people I know and have relationships with.

    I'm newer to blogging, but I love it because I can say what I want to say and know that the people reading my words are there because they're interested in what I'm saying.

    Twitter is the tricky one for me. Most of my connections are people I've never really interacted with, so it feels like a big party where I don't know anybody. But I've found it's similar to real life in that I have a few people I've managed to befriend who make Twitter worthwhile for me.

  11. I have a FB account but I almost never go there anymore. I'd like to twitter but I have a cheap apless phone. I like blogging best; it's been a lot more helpful to me as a writer. I guess I'd rather socialize virtually with people who have something in common with me, rather than a bunch of strangers I'll have to pretend with.

    love these posts btw :) so interesting.

  12. Awesome post. That explains why my mostly introverted self (at least I like to think I am, but self-confidence might have something to do with it) likes Twitter, FB, email and texting as opposed to other forms of contact!

  13. Two weeks ago, Shrinking Violet Promotions did a post on this:

    As I commented there, I have only recently started reading blogs, and have started my own. This was a tough thing to do because I am dyslexic and *enjoyed* my early education years being mocked and punished by teachers who thought I was trying to be funny.

    In fact, my taking to writing in the first place was not because I enjoyed telling stories, but because I was so desperate to be *average* and not stand out.

    What I have found is that commenting online (and on my blog) enables me to think my thoughts out clearly... and I have a chance to re-read before posting. I can catch *most* of my mistakes, and I think I'm also getting a little more comfortable with making errors, mainly 'cause so many people type quickly and also make mistakes :)

  14. Hm, interesting...I do find though, that many people (whether writers or not) use social media to talk to people that they ordinarily wouldn't. NOt because they dont' want to talk to them, but because they're afraid to. Social media takes away the anxiety of rejection, it would seem. But if the person would prefer to talk to you via cyberspace instead of face-to-face (when they know you) what does that say?

    I think in some ways social media is ruining the fundamental link of actually talking to one another, as people did decades ago.

    I think talking face to face will always trump doing so via cyberspace.

  15. Great post as always. I do think social media gives us "permission" in some sense to avoid some real life social situations. Not sure if that's a good thing. But I do know I wouldn't be as happy without it and all the friends I've made using it.

  16. Oh, Sarah, I loved this. I think I'm one of those crunched up worms in the peanut can- you know when you take the lid off and BOING. I'm an extrovert and trapped in an introverted lifestyle, so I shoot out in writing and social media. Originally, I only didn't want any of me out there because I thought it effected the reading experience, but since my readership isn't really ANY *sniff* problem for me right now- BOING, you know?

  17. I am most definitely a lurker. I do enjoy blogging and Tweeting, but I don't do it as often as I'd like to! Lurking rocks, though, so I can't really complain :)

    Oh, and I am officially making a T-shirt that says, "Ambivert is the new black." *fist pump*

    Great post!

  18. Yay, I can finally post!

    Sarah, I absolutely love your blog and the very helpful information you share with us. I love stimulating discussions and conversations!

    Anyway, I am an introvert because in real life, I am pretty quiet. The good thing about being an introvert is I have unusually keen powers of observation. While the chatty ones are regaling everyone with their stories, I've already noted who's uncomfortable, who's having a fight/argument, who's eyeing out each other in a group event.

    While I do say I'm an introvert, it doesn't mean that I'm shy or awkward. I don't have a problem socializing with others; I just don't like doing it for an extended period of time. I like having my "alone time", where there's just my thoughts to deal with. Lucky for me, I married a guy who's pretty similar personality-wise to me, so we don't clash. He hates big crowds as much as I do, and yet, his job dictates that he talks to people all the time. And he does a bang-up job doing so.

    So I guess, we're really in the middle of the spectrum.

  19. Oh and I totally forgot to answer your question. I'm new to blogging and twitter, but I've found a niche that I'm comfortable with. It also helps to have a tight group of cyber friends to help me get over the first-time jitters. I found that I enjoy socializing through the Internet because the physicality of it is removed--for instance, I don't have to worry about people judging me base on appearance and surface impression; they get exposed straightaway to my brain, my thoughts. It's refreshing not to have to deal with stereotyping. (I'm Asian and usually quiet, so people who don't know me immediately assume I don't speak English very well. Ha!)

  20. Great post. I've heard (can't remember where) that a majority of people will define themselves as introverts, but when you ask them questions to "diagnose" them (Do you like to be alone? Do you feel energized when you're in a crowd? etc), many people who THINK they're introverts actually can be "diagnosed" as extroverts or ambiverts. Is this something you've heard?

    It makes me wonder how these studies are determining who is an introvert and who is an extrovert - self-reporting vs. behavior. Perhaps this could explain some of the differences in the studies.

  21. I'm completely 100% guilty of being a lurker. In fact, I think I had a twitter account for almost 6 months before I actually posted anything LOL! Good post Sarah. I actually never would have known the difference between a true introvert and a shy person - I'm pretty sure I've always confused the two.

  22. "extroverts tend to use social media more than introverts." I'm surpised. I'd think that extroverts would prefer in-person contact, and introverts would take full advantage of social media (like I do) because it's so much easier than interacting in person. I wonder if I'm one of those ambiverts who only thinks he's very much an introvert.

  23. I like social networks because I get to socialize on my own time. If I read an email or a comment on a blog post, I don't have to answer it right away. I can think about it for a while and come back.

    And yeah, I'm a lurker. It's awful because I'll think I've spent all this time socializing with people online because I've read their blog posts, but then I'll realize that yeah, they didn't know I was there. Oops. :o

  24. I would love to hear about the boundary issues, myself - I love hearing about the issues with other people's jobs. ^_^

    I'm a lurker. I have a FB account, but I haven't ever posted, it's more a way to keep up with friends. I have joined Twitter, but have never tweeted, and how do people keep up with following all these tweets?

    I have so little time, and it's so easy to get pulled into the on-line world and not do important things like writing or reading books. I've even taken all games off my computers, even solitaire. And there's the time investment just learning to use everything, and incorporating it into my schedule. Too much right now, when my subconscious is already looking for any excuse not to write. ^_^


  25. - My extroverted (real-life) friends are all over Facebook. They love it because they can connect with everyone all the time. If they can't be at a party (perhaps because they have no driver's license?), then the least they can do is have a party online.
    - As an introvert, I think I appreciate Facebook/Blogger/Twitter because it's on my own time. I can have my solitude, but then I can mingle and chat and converse.
    Just my thoughts. :)

  26. It's amazing how introverted people can walk on the other side when they have social media. Have a front helps to steady the nerves when posting/tweeting/etc. Great post!

  27. I love blogs because they take care of my need to cut through small talk. In face-to-face encounters, it's hard to get down to discussing ideas right off the bat (unless I happen to be hanging out with a really good friend, which doesn't happen enough). Not so in the most worthwhile blogs. Speaking of which, great blog you have here! I'd love to hear about the boundary problems you encounter with clients, by the way.

  28. I'm the most extroverted on my blog, but probably because I know mostly "safe" people are visiting, i.e. my blogging, writing buddies. On FB, I'm "friends" with people who I'm not actually close to, and so I'm more introverted because I fear them judging my "wanna be" writer status. I have issues, what can I say.

  29. I've been writing without social media connections for a long time, and sometimes I would wait for my kids to get home from school so I'd have someone to talk to. I volunteered in their school a lot and made friends, but then I wasn't writing or connecting with writers. I'm more of a middle person--not really shy or extroverted. So social networking is perfect for me. I feel very comfortable commenting. Sometimes I try to be witty and make people laugh. I love doing that.
    Great post, Sarah.

  30. I'm a very avid user of social media, and I am definitely an introvert in real life. I became especially dependent on the internet for social interaction once I entered high school. It was a school where many of my peers had been together since kindergarten, and it was extremely difficult to integrate. I became close friends with individuals my age that I met through the internet, several of which are still my best friends.

    I tend to be soft-spoken in real life. This is especially apparent in group settings where I quickly fade to the safety of the background. When it comes to interacting via the computer, I find it much easier to "speak up."

    Kathleen bullied me into getting a Twitter account. I still find the 140 character limit absurd, buuuut I do enjoy its many other benefits. (Such as the fantastic people.) Other friends demanded that I get a Facebook, which I mainly use to share photos with my friends. I'm rarely without a camera, partially because it helps with participating in group activities without necessitating speaking up.

  31. I'd just like to say that I did not BULLY #evilintern into getting a Twitter account...I STRONGLY SUGGESTED...big difference...and now she just charges into my office to say 'a-llo' like she owns the place #pshaww

  32. This has been a great series, Sarah. And there have been many great comments. I usually do try and leave a comment on blogs I visit, but I am much more likely to do so if someone comments on mine. After that, it's comments and e-mails up the wazoo!

  33. If a T-Rex tells you get a Twitter account, then you're going to scramble off to make one. (It is was a good deed. I needed the proper motivation since I was 100% against Twitter before that. I'm currently trying to coax my new fellow interns into making accounts so I can hang with them on Twitter.)

    And you totally fetched me to show me your background first! You opened the gate of passage. I can remain at The Table until beckoned in the future if it is what you prefer. #dramatic #willstopstealingSarah'sblogcommentspacenow

  34. It sounds like you went about things very intellligently. I used to use Twitter much more, but I think it has lost its gloss for me, especially when I'm busy. But maybe many of us aren't true introverts. We crave contact, but aren't good in social situations, so we do better establishing and maintaining that contact online. *shrug*

  35. I do enjoy socializing on the web more than person to person, LOL!

    I think having time to myself is MANDATORY for my sanity. ;) But I can certianly be more outgoing when the situation calls for it.

    I've loved this series--great information!!! :D

  36. I'm terrible face-to-face until I get to know someone so I guess that's why I love social media. No one can see me blush! hehehe.

  37. I would probably put myself on the extrovert side of the spectrum, even though I end up spending most of my time alone because of my schedule, because I am happier when around people and that is how I "recharge by batteries." Even though in person I am sometimes reticent to approach strangers (especially if I am asking them to do something etc.) online that shyness is diminished. I love twitter because it allows me to meet new people and develop relationships with them even if I can't physically meet them. Same with my blog. I think I lurk a little more on twitter though, because I don't always have something profound to say. But in real life I am usually in the mix, driving the party.