An Introvert in the Social Media Age

Hi, I’m Albert, and I’m an introvert. (Hi, Albert!)

Actually there probably wouldn’t be anybody at the Introverts Anonymous meeting to say “Hi, Albert,” because introverts don’t like being out in groups. Some years ago my wife and I went to a workshop and took a personality inventory. When we came back the next week to talk about the results, the woman who met with me said she was surprised I came out to get the results because I was so far toward the introvert end of the scale.

I come by my nature honestly. My parents were both non-social people. Away from work, they interacted only with extended family. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we moved a lot, so we never got close to our neighbors. I was never on school teams or in clubs. Over the years my mother talked about several women from work whom she liked, but to the best of my knowledge she never saw them in any other context.

My wife—God bless her—does not complain about my shyness, even after forty-six years. She did once tell me that I would have made a good monk. My response was, “Maybe, except for that celibacy thing.” She says she was attracted to me because I was a quiet type, so different from her father. Like they say, be careful what you wish for.

In addition to being my wife, she is a psychologist and an outgoing person, so she can’t help but encourage me to socialize more. At various times we have been in dinner groups and bridge groups. Those small-scale affairs, with people I know, are enjoyable, although I am psychically exhausted by the end of the evening. Last year I went with her to a Christmas party given by the community chorus of which she is a member. After half an hour in a room filled with perfectly nice people, not one of whom I knew, I told her, “I think I’m on the verge of a panic attack. I have to get out of here. If you can’t get a ride home, call me and I’ll come get you.”

I’ve never had a panic attack that I know of, but I’m sure if I had stayed another five minutes I would have been curled up in a corner in the fetal position.

Although I am an introvert, I know there are situations where I have to be sociable, and I try. Just not very successfully, it seems. For over a decade I’ve been attending Magna cum Murder, a conference for readers and writers of mysteries. It’s sponsored by Ball State University, in Indiana, the last full weekend of October each year, and is, for my money, the best mystery conference in the country. Google for “Magna cum Murder” to check it out. The woman who runs it, Kathryn Kennison, is gracious, vivacious, and welcoming to everyone. After attending for several years, I got up the nerve to ask her something. I said, “Kathryn, you hug everybody who comes into this conference, but you’ve never hugged me. May I ask why?” She said, “I wasn’t sure you wanted to be hugged.”

Yeah. Ouch. But then she hugged me.

By now you’re asking, What does this have to do with writing? Quite a bit, actually. Writing is a solitary activity for which introverts are ideally suited. When I close my office door, a feeling of contentment washes over me. But there’s another side to writing these days—promoting your work. Today you have to “put yourself out there.” You have to grab every opportunity to publicize your work and—more importantly—yourself. A publisher will ask you what your “platform” is, how you plan to market your book. For an introvert, that is the very definition of hell.

Publicizing yourself today doesn’t mean just doing a few signings in bookstores or being interviewed for a radio show or a newspaper (remember newspapers?). You’re expected to get involved with social media. I recently appeared at a local bookstore. They expected me to post notices about the appearance on Facebook and to tweet people. I told them I do have a Facebook page—I check it about once a month—but I don’t tweet or “follow” anybody or have anybody “following” me. The very idea seems unbearably intrusive. Why would I want to tell anybody what I’m doing every fifteen minutes? Why would I care what other people are having for lunch, or what random thoughts just popped into their heads? Do you think Hemingway would have tweeted “Just put shotgun in mouth. Funny metallic taste :-(“?

People today can’t seem to tolerate being out of touch for even a few minutes. In my classes (I’m a college professor) I require students to turn off and put away all electronic media. (I use a lot of online a/v material during class.) As soon as class is over, students bolt for the door, turning on their phones the way people used to grab cigarettes. You can almost see their hands shaking. “Has anybody texted me? Why hasn’t anybody texted me? What’s been posted on Facebook? What tweets have I missed?” I’m convinced that social media—all forms of instant communication—have become a type of addiction. We can’t go for any length of time without another “fix.”

Recently I was made aware of just how pervasive and addictive these things are when I went to the restroom in a bookstore. As I went into a stall I saw from the feet in the next stall that it was occupied. About the time I got settled, the man in the next stall said, “So, what do you want to do Friday night?” What I wanted to do right then—forget Friday night—was get out of there, but, let’s just say, I couldn’t. Then, after a pause, he said, “I could bring some wine.” At that point I realized—I hoped to God—that he was talking to someone on his phone.

What could possibly be so important that he couldn’t wait five minutes to make that call? Why did he have to intrude his phone call into the privacy of my privy?

I’m not a Luddite. I carry a cell phone and I text when I need 2, but I don’t want 2 b connected every waking moment. The world has changed, though. Recluses like J. D. Salinger couldn’t become successful today, no matter how good their writing might be. Can you imagine what kind of tweet you’d get from Salinger? I’m not—and don’t want to be—as reclusive as he was. I just find it very difficult to meet modern expectations of a writer in this age of social media. I love writing. I enjoy talking to people about writing. My Wednesday night writers’ group is the highlight of my week. I just hate having to publicize myself through social media.

I’m Albert, and I’m an introvert.

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7 Responses

  1. I’m a born extrovert, but having been on the road so much over the years (60 gigs in the US, Canada, and Germany for just one book recently), I find myself becoming less eager to do the whole PR thing. It takes more energy.

    I also teach at a university, as a guest author, and the biggest traffic hazard isn’t bikers, but students crossing the street texting. I ask my students to turn off their phones during class and they go right for them at break. Except for one who goes outside to smoke, which seems almost healthier. 🙂

  2. You are so fortunate to have parents who sympathized with your introverted tendencies. My parents love the spotlight, and could never understand why I wasn’t excited to perform spontaneously without much of an invitation. Neither of them is good at reading people, so while they were oblivious, I was the person processing our audience’s reception. A friend got me to sing a nonsense song for a Christmas talent show this year. It was the first time I have performed in at least a decade. It’s not so bad when your audience is expecting you.

  3. I like this post, Albert, and relate closely to it. I force myself to do events, post on Facebook (still no Twitter), and I taught for years at both secondary and college level. I actually enjoyed the teaching, for I could become “someone else,” as I do onstage off and on, acting. My grandmother, I discovered, had agoraphobia, so I blame it all on her. I guess introversion is one reason we writers love to write. We can do all our socializing invisibly–until we’re forced to go out and market.

  4. I think all writers can agree with you, Albert, that we have a more or less strong introverted streak. Like you, I need my solitude, but I also enjoy some social time. Face to face, though. I hate social media and the marketing we now have to do. Someone just advised we should join 45 groups on LinkedIn. Huh? I don’t have that many followers on FB, and I use FB to stay connected with my far-flung family! How can anyone keep up with 45 groups? Anyway, the important thing is to write on, brother.

  5. I appreciate the comments. People sometimes ask me how a introvert can be a teacher. But in the classroom I am in control. As Nancy noted, it is a kind of performance art.

    • You and I both attended Magna cum Murder, Albert, and I knew you’d be there and was watching for you, but never did find you. It’s not easy to hide from people in that cozy a situation . . . I think you really are an introvert!

      • Sara,

        Sorry we didn’t connect. I was on three panels and took part in the Continuing Conversation, so there was no way I could hide. I’m told that attendance at Magna was up 50% this year. That’s why they wanted to move it out of Muncie.

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