Is it possible that how a person acts in in-person social situations is quite a bit analogous to how they will act in online social situations? This may have always been obvious to a lot of people, but I have been oblivious to the reality of this for most of my life on the Internet. I tend to act shy and socially awkward in person, but I never had accepted it as a given that I would do the same online. Nonetheless, I have recently amassed a certain amount of evidence indicating that despite my wishful thinking of myself as an extremely dynamic internet character, I am actually just as shy and socially awkward in social media/the Internet as I am everywhere else.
Observation #1: I was looking back at my twitter feed recently and I realized that it is in fact rather sparse and boring. I haven’t tweeted and shared nearly as many things as I imagine that I have, and what is there is mostly very dry. I did want to keep my @jdwhiting twitter account somewhat on-topic to my professional life and applicable to the type of users I tend to follow and retweet, so I’ve consciously tried to share only things that are somewhat relevant to the worlds of libraries and education, and I’ve actively refrained from some of the random weirdness that I have been capable of in the past. But as I have started to take twitter more seriously it turns out I have not shared anything all that personable, nor anything all that unique, nor anything remotely controversial. But I thought about sharing these things, and in my memory I misled myself into thinking I actually had shared some of those things. A self-audit of my actual feed history says no, though.
Observation #2: Another realization I have had as I have reflected on my social media usage is that, although I look at Twitter frequently and I follow a lot of people who I think are interesting, or have great things to say, or who share great resources, I don’t really have friends among them. I don’t know that I could even say I have acquaintances among them. I also don’t think I have what one could legitimately call a “professional learning network” even though I have learned a lot from the discussions, articles, and resources I have encountered via Twitter. I don’t ask questions on Twitter all that often, and one of the reasons I don’t is because I am afraid that if I did I wouldn’t get any answers. This is an untested hypothesis, though, so I should go ahead and try it. When you are shy your life is filled with an abundance of untested hypotheses.
Observation #3: I’ve been playing around with this children’s literature blog off and on for six months now. I have a number of posts here, but I’ve never shared or promoted any of them out to anyone. I actually haven’t even hinted at this site’s existence on social media. I intended to do this a long time ago, but I keep waiting for some more opportune moment to begin promoting it, or for some new post, such as this one, to be polished and published so that then the site would truly be ready for the attention and scrutiny of the world.
So here’s the thing. It turns out I run my twitter feed and my blog the way I run many other parts of my life. I don’t talk to people very often, unless necessary. I don’t do socializing and small talk well, and I definitely don’t do “networking” at all. I talk with people if I am placed in a work situation with them, and I do really try to be helpful whenever I can, but I alternately feel like I am either butting into everyone else’s business and telling people things they already know, or else I feel left out of the conversation and like I am withholding useful information. I have no happy medium.
I was at a statewide conference recently for school librarians. This is like twitter in the flesh. I didn’t forge any innovative connections or synergistic collaborations with people outside of my district, which is what the gurus state is supposed to happen at such conferences. In fact, I barely had conversations with people who I work with within my district. But I went to all the sessions. I listened and learned, for the most part. I even had to fill in at the last minute as a host for one of the sessions, and I did it. But I have no new relationships to speak of because of the conference, other than a couple of useful wikis or websites provided by some of the presenters that I can now stalk to steal their information and ideas.
And is this okay? Maybe, but maybe I need to share more. A couple of people I work with in my district passed me in the hallway between sessions and told me I should have been presenting at the conference, because I know “everything” and I’m the one they go to with questions. I brushed this off and quickly walked away, but maybe there is some truth to it. This video from one Derek Sivers has an interesting concept that maybe I need to embrace: we should share what we do and what we know, because what seems normal and boring to us might be a groundbreaking idea to someone else.
Furthermore, the people who are prone to dominate conversations, or who tend to get up and present at conferences, or who constantly blast out tweets may or may not actually have the best ideas even though they are the loudest or even the most charismatic: (this embed says it’s 20+ minutes but it skips straight to the 20 second clip I have chosen, so please go ahead and click play)
So, it feels risky and dangerous and even kind of dumb, but I’ve been off introverting out for quite a while, and I am now going to try to share more, and more sincerely and personably. I do still get to be ironic and sincere at the same time, though, because I continue to claim that as my online motto. I just need to start sharing like it is true.