Over the last 20 or so years, there have been numerous trends and changes that have been like manna for introverts: self-checkouts at the grocery store. iPods and earbuds. Smart cars and MINI Coopers that only seat two people. E-mail and the web. Social media/networking.
It’s that last one that is becoming less like manna and more like madness. I’ve been experiencing “Facebook fatigue” and social networking numbness. The feelings have been circling for the past year and have started to move in for the kill.
I’ve often referred to the web and social media as the greatest thing since sliced bread for the introvert. It allows us to express ourselves in writing, take our time, reflect, research, protect our personal space and energy, and connect on our own terms.
For most introverts – and especially introvert entrepreneurs – the web is a gift that has facilitated connections, business and friendships. We get to be introverts in real life and play the extrovert online. It’s allowed us to reach thousands, if not millions, of people with efficiency and minimal energetic output.
Or has it?
A fan on The Introvert Entrepreneur Facebook Page recently posted the following:
“Penny for your thoughts on social networking. Sometimes my digital space gets cramped with people wanting to be connected whom I do not know nor have met on a professional level.”
Here’s part of my response:
I can totally identify. I’ve been somewhat liberal with my friend/connection acceptances, and it’s meant that relative strangers have crowded into my virtual space and pushed out real life friends. It starts to feel like I’ve stepped into a room full of people I don’t know, and I’m expected to interact! What was once a blessing to the introvert (being able to connect in our own way, taking our time, maintaining some space) has the potential to become just as bad as the huge networking events we sometimes loathe.
This question came right on the heels of a recent cover story in Newsweek called “iCrazy.” One particular sentence in the article cut through the clutter and explained perfectly how I was feeling:
“Altogether the digital shifts of the last five years call to mind a horse that has sprinted out from underneath its rider, dragging the person who once held the reins.”
The “digital shifts” have included how we define “friend” or “colleague.” They’ve created a space were connecting is easy and painless. This has led to what I’ve experienced as a slippery slope. Let’s take Facebook as an example. When I first signed up in early 2008, my circle of friends consisted of people I knew IRL (in real life). Almost all were “active” friends, people with whom I had a current relationship. Then I started connecting to people from the past: from high school, college, former jobs. The “friends” list continued to grow as I accepted requests from friends of friends that I trusted. Then there were people that I’d met at a networking or professional event, maybe only having had a single conversation. Then the friends of those people would request a connection… and they told two friends… and they told two friends… and so on.
In the past few weeks, I’ve realized that I’ve started down the path of becoming a genuine “online extrovert,” thinking I’m fed by more and more interaction of any kind. It’s stressful, out of alignment and not sustainable.
So what’s an introvert to do? We love and want our connections and community, and we can easily find we’ve allowed chaos to invade our quiet.
Here are five quick thoughts:
- Develop a personal social media strategy; it doesn’t have to be complicated. Decide what your objective is for each platform: personal, professional, family, prospects, etc. This tells you what kinds of people/businesses might match those objectives. You can then extend, accept or decline invitations based on that strategy.
- It might feel a bit weird at first, but cull through your friends and contacts and “unfriend” people you don’t know (or who don’t fit the strategy you devised for that platform). You may think they’re going to notice and feel offended; chances are, they’ll have no idea you disappeared (unless you were one of 10 friends). Consider letting go of or “hiding” friends who always seem to fill up your feed, who regularly post items you don’t find interesting, or with whom you never interact.
- Invest a little time in creating feed filters so that you can control the visual onslaught. Facebook allows you to create lists so that you can choose to see posts by selected friends or Pages. You can also choose to have your own posts be filtered to a specific list (such as “family,” “close friends” or “public.”) Here are some useful tips: heresthethingblog.com/2012/01/25/3-ways-declutter-facebook-news/
- Craft a reply for those situations when professional contacts want to friend you personally, or when you’ve decided to reserve a particular platform for only the closest family and friends. For instance, “I reserve my Facebook profile for close family and friends, so I ask my professional contacts to connect with me on X. I’d be happy to accept an invitation to be part of your network there.” Or, invite them to subscribe to your public updates (and then remember to use your filters).
- Remember that when we spend our alone time online, we’re not really alone. We’re being bombarded with virtual voices, images and sounds that invade our private space. It’s not surprising to me that a day “alone” but spent mostly online can be exhausting. Choose to be more conscious of how much you’re allowing the web to suck up your energy.
Yes, the web gives the extroverted side of introverts a space to come out and play. Being more outgoing or people-oriented online than in person doesn’t mean we have a split personality or are being deceptive. That said, we have every right to control who we let into our virtual world. Even if it seems there is an expectation that we should say “yes” to every invitation. You can ask yourself, “Would I want to know this person in real life?” If yes, connect – if no, respectfully decline.
So if you’re my friend on Facebook and suddenly find I’m not appearing in your news feeds anymore, please understand… it’s nothing personal. I’m sure you’re a wonderful person. I simply want to restore some peace and quiet to my online world. And if you choose to remove me from your feed? I’ll be grateful that my silly posts aren’t coming between you and your real friends!
What about you? Is your online presence an oasis of calm and connection, or is it more like a virtual happy hour? What online strategies have helped you keep things under control? Please share in the comments!