Can our social skills be hurt or helped by what we do online?

I saw this posted in the comments of a blog post by Mediajoltz and it got me to thinking.

From personal experience I’d say immersing yourself too far in the web can only hurt your real life social skills – by that I mean; if your primary method of social contact is via a monitor and a keyboard then you will find it very hard to hold a face to face conversation with somebody without making some serious faux pas.

Conversation is a skill like any other, if you don’t practice a skill then you WILL lose it.
You can’t throw up an emoticon to soften a comment in real life and you can’t take time to frame a reply in the same way you can online – folks will be patient with you in cyberspace, they know other things could be distracting you and that gives you time to think through what you say, there’s no pressure and when you have typed your reply you have the chance to change what you’re about to say before it’s sent..

That’s not possible in a face to face situation.

For a long time I’ve thought that my verbal communication problems were a direct result of my illness. I shied away from meeting people face to face or from holding telephone conversations with people I barely knew because I was embarrassed.
I was embarrassed because I’d lost the knack of talking to people, of being able to convey a point and express myself clearly – I felt like a moron – but I blamed the illness because of the ‘brain fog’ that’s brought on by being constantly ‘tired’.

In the first year of succumbing to the damned thing I became a virtual hermit, I spent most of my time in bed and slowly lost contact with all of my friends thereby limiting my face to face contact options.
This meant my conversational skills diminished through lack of practice and I then exacerbated the problem by only ‘speaking’ to people online. Now that I’m slowly clawing back some semblance of verbal competence I struggle.
If I’m having a bad day the brain fog is a problem – but then being overly tired will cause anyone to stumble in conversations and they won’t appear at their best. My illness is directly tied to low energy levels so it’s to be expected that I’ll stumble a little more often than most.

Now that I’m back at college, I’m being forced to communicate every day with people I barely know and I yearn for the ease of a keyboard. I infinitely prefer using the net as my method of communication, it takes the strain away and allows me time to form a coherent response. It also lets me pick and choose who to converse with and when to do it – at MY convenience.

Which is where I come to my main point.
Online I probably come across as an interesting and relatively amusing person – offline I’m ‘weird’ and that’s all down to the way I live online; because for the last 3-4 years it’s the only way I’ve lived.
I struggle in a social setting not because of my illness but because my social skills are lacking. They are lacking because I’ve limited myself – online I can choose who to talk to and what to talk about and can completely disregard anything in which I have no interest or knowledge.

Which means online I am always comfortable and never have to really stretch myself – if I’m unknowledgable about the topic under discussion then google bridges the gap.
That’s not possible in a real life social situation.
I’ve become overly reliant on the net instead of my own memory, I’m constantly wishing I had access so that I can refer to things in a discussion, I’ll remember reading an article but can never remember the salient attributes of it (though that could be down to the CFS; memory problems are a recognised symptom) It’s frustrating that in real life I’ve no google back up and I can’t turn to my thesaurus if I’m struggling for a word.

This reliance also means my conversational topics are limited; hardly any of the people I speak to in ‘real life’ know the websites I frequent, they don’t ‘get’ social networking or blogging, my online musical collaborations may sound ‘cool’ but it’s not interesting if you’re not a musician and showing off pretty handmade jewelery can only take a conversation so far.

Still, at least I am aware of the areas in which I’m lacking. A little more time in the world offline observing the people around me and interacting with as many as possible should bring my social skills back up to scratch..

..Now if only most folks didn’t find my love of karaoke to be weird as well *sigh* it’s my favourite offline activity and none of the college lot are remotely interested in it 😥

7 thoughts on “Can our social skills be hurt or helped by what we do online?

  1. zzirf

    Yes, there is something to what you say for sure – but it is also like not being able exercise the body – we end up compromising to make up for the lack. I stretch a lot 🙂 and I sit at the computer a lot rather than sit and stare into space. It is easier and safer and many see it as a cop out but there is not too much incentive for me to develop my social skills face-to-face any more. And I am not sure I need to since I tend to revert to my “old bubbly chatty self” as soon as the pain and fatigue are gone – so maybe I am not even losing those skills – they are just being hidden.

    I was a bit concerned that you were actually being too hard on yourself by honing in on something that you perceive to be a weakness in you. We all do what we have to.

  2. Neil

    A good point, and one well made.

    I certainly found that when my social interactions were limited to those online, it further inhibited my natural lack of skills.

    Like Nik, I’m very rarely able to strike up a conversation with someone in real life, and even now I’m not good at ‘small-talk’ – I dry up quickly, leading to uncomfortable pauses.

    I believe that there’s only one cure for this, though – and that’s exposure to other people with _better_ social skills. Since getting with my current partner, we’re always out and about in a much larger social circle than I’ve ever had, and I frequently have to meet and converse with strangers. I’ve found that the more I’ve had to do it, the more I can (though I still don’t like doing it!).

    Good post, one that I hope will lead to more discussions.


  3. Nik ( loudmouthman ) Butler

    Now here is something interesting , your blog was agreggated to me faster than MediaJoltz , still here is what I think for those readers not dropping to the other link.

    This really seems to be a conversation for many people today. What with the conversation at PodcampUK and with MediaJolts recent article

    Im not sure whom these Social Skills police are that are rushing around blaming the internet for a lack of social graces. I am sure they used to blame television, rock music or books for just such social crimes.

    Im probably the most gregarious of individuals I know but honestly people in the real world will barely open a conversation with a stranger let alone acknowledge them.

    Does it not appear we are all getting better at sharing ideas and thoughts here.

    Doesnt this seem to break the social ice for many of us especially when we first meet up.

    Great post, thanks for sharing.


  4. Lorri Randle

    Hey you! I never saw the link to the website till I came here. Thanks for the comments! I actually took a day to make my own post about it too.
    I pose the different sides: Online people feel more comfortable, vs online not being good.

    What I am finding out is that while people aren’t connecting in “real life” as much as they use to, those people they are connecting to online they feel closer too. Interesting thoughts. You can read the post and comments over here:

  5. K. Restoule

    I prefer the keyboard because I feel safer. I don’t feel prejudged. I’m not worried about bad hair. I’m nothing wondering if I stink.

    I just feel safer.

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