wasting our breath on social media

I love social media. I love being able to talk to people from the comfort of my own sofa at a time that suits me, I love being able to take time and think how to phrase my comments, I love how you can just quietly listen in on conversations and choose which ones you want to be part of – with nobody even knowing if you quietly walk away.

And yet, there’s another side to that coin. Just as nobody will know if I quietly walk away, I can’t know if someone I’m talking to has decided to quietly walk away.

Which means that sometimes I might put lots of time and thought into a reply to someone, but I’m wasting my breath as they’ve gone – muted the post, or even muted/blocked me.

In face-to-face interaction this wouldn’t happen – obviously you’d know if someone has actually walked away… And even if they haven’t, you might notice their eyes glazing over, or that they’re fidgeting and looking around for someone else to talk to. In online conversations you don’t normally have these clues.

As someone who is very shy and socially awkward, online interaction is a lot easier for me than face-to-face. I find it hard to approach strangers and start a conversation, and even with people I already know I don’t always feel confident about reading the signs: do they want to talk to me right now? But online I can just say something and see what sort of reaction I get, without risking the pain of seeing a negative reaction on someone’s face.

So I’m a lot less shy in my online life. I joined Google+ when it was new, hardly knowing anyone, but I just bounced up to strangers and talked to them, and made friends. Of course not everyone reacted in a friendly manner, but when you’re going around talking to lots and lots of people (which I can’t do in meatspace as I’d get exhausted!), you can afford to live with the reality of win some, lose some. It’s a lot less painful when you just don’t get a reply to a comment you left on a stranger’s post, than when you share something with a person in meatspace and see a look of complete incomprehension on their face.

So really, I’m ok with wasting my breath some of the time. It’s worth it – it’s not really a waste, it’s more of an investment. It’s just that if it happens too often, you can get despondent – but thankfully on Google+ it doesn’t happen too often, there are plenty of people there who are happy to talk to me so I’m not all that fussed when once in a while someone stomps off.

I’m a bit more self-conscious on Twitter (for “a bit” read “a lot”), because there I don’t have lots of friends (yet?) and because I’m not sure I know all the unwritten rules of behaviour, and – yes, because I’m pretty sure there’s one or two people who have muted me there, and I’ll probably never find out why because once someone has muted you that’s it, end of communication.

And on Twitter it feels more of a big deal to me because of the breath-wasting factor: it takes me a lot more time and effort to compose a tweet than to write a comment on Google+, because of having to somehow squeeze my thought into such a tiny space. There’s that story about Mark Twain, who got a telegramme from a publisher, saying: NEED 2-PAGE SHORT STORY TWO DAYS and responded: NO CAN DO 2 PAGES TWO DAYS. CAN DO 30 PAGES 2 DAYS. NEED 30 DAYS TO DO 2 PAGES.

At that rate it would have taken him months and months to compose a tweet… I won’t say it takes me quite that long, but it definitely takes me long enough to make me think before I reply to someone, and to bite my tongue much more often than I do on G+, where there’s no character limit so I can express myself more naturally.

Still, there’s this talk about Twitter possibly planning to increase the character limit, so it might get a bit easier for those who, like me, are much more comfortable rambling than trying to be pithy. I’m clearly not an orange.

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