Monday, June 12, 2017

Being an introvert in the age of social media

I've always been a very introverted person. Too much social interaction definitely tires me out, and I've never had a large group of friends (or been the life of the party). I am also a pretty anti-social person. I don't need that much daily social interaction to not feel lonely. These things used to be important career-wise for their impacts on networking. Modern life definitely rewards the extroverted (and especially the extrovert with social skills). Us introverts have had to learn to deal with our feelings of being overwhelmed in order to do things like make connections at conferences, meet potential program officers, and get through 2 day interviews.

I don't know it is just me and my particular combination of introversion, anti-social behavior, and paranoia about Internet companies (if you can't tell what they are selling, they are selling you!), but I find most social media uninteresting and at times overwhelming. For now, this is not a major problem. Most recruiting is done via more traditional networking rather than through Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. Like most modern academics, I have a website that interested folks can use to find out more about my research, my group, or my professional self. But I don't have a Twitter account. I have accounts on LinkedIn and Facebook that I don't actually use except to accept friend requests from people I know. I have a ResearchGate account that lists my publications, since a colleague mentioned it helps with citations, but I only log in to it when I have a new publication.

I see some colleagues (mostly, but not all younger) advertising their social media presences at the end of their talks. I've had conversations with people worried about the social media presence of their groups, and about how to raise their digital profile. And now I wonder if this is the future--if social media luddites will be seen as out of touch as the departmental dinosaurs who used to print out their emails.

I find this concerning on two levels. For me, introversion in real life follows me online. It would be yet another unpleasant thing I have to force myself to do in order to be successful, but this time it would be primarily on my downtime. I don't feel shut out by not having the information my friends and relatives post to Facebook. If it is important, I hear about it from them. If not, I don't miss it. I don't miss Twitter conversations, having never really been able to engage with Twitter in the first place. When I did try out Facebook, it was kind of fun to hear about the (mostly good things) going on in other people's lives (people do tend to keep the bad things to themselves or their REAL intimate circles), but I had to search hard for things to post myself. I was like an online eavesdropper, never really contributing to the conversation. It made me think of when I was learning social and networking skills in the first place, only with Facebook, any mistakes would be recorded for posterity.

On a second level, I find it highly disturbing that a portion of professional success would be dependent on giving freebies to large rich companies like Facebook and Google. That other people are willing to do this is not surprising--in 2004 and again in 2014, a majority of people were willing to trade things like computer passwords or other personal indentifiers away for a candy bar or a cookie. I am not so eager to give away pieces of myself in order to see targeted ads (oh yeah, and connect with people online).

It is a whole level of ironic for me that many warriors for Open Access then go ahead and use privately held social media companies without a thought about giving away information for free that Facebook is willing to pay for to help them increase profits. And by using these platforms, they give away information about their social contacts as well that is used to make money for the companies. This information is only accessible from the privately held walled off garden run by each company. How is this all that different from the publishing company/society based publication model they wish to overthrow?

I understand that there are loads of people who love Facebook and Twitter. I have nothing against them and their enjoyment. I just hope that opting out will continue to remain an option.


xykademiqz said...

I am also a social media luddite (don't have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, snapchat, etc.) I have a blog and that's it. Professionally, I have a department page and a research group page, both of which I try to keep up to date. I also have a Google Scholar page, which is important.

I am not too worried about the social media becoming that important in research any time soon. Our currency is still peer reviewed archival papers, and that won't change anytime soon. No matter how fun someone is online or how fun they are at a conference/networking event, ultimately it comes down to the quality and impact of their published work.

In my field, at least, my impression is that junior people would likely be mocked for having an overly vibrant social media professional presence (as in, why are they wasting time on that crap, they should be writing proposals and papers instead). Perhaps other fields aren't like that.

As per introvert/extrovert, I am an introvert but I can simulate extroversion when I am pumped with adrenaline and I think I have decent social skills (e.g., I can chat with anyone). So I am a good presenter and lecturer, and I can be gregarious at conferences, but it does take its toll after a while.

pyrope said...

I do have a twitter account and have for a couple of years, but I never post anything there. That is definitely a place where lurking makes follow mostly people you don't know, but you think are interesting, and then occasionally they post links or clever tidbits. It is a good place to visit once in a while when you and some of my other blog faves haven't posted something new for a while :) Also, people can be pretty witty making fun of dumb shit on twitter - and there is plenty of dumb shit going on these days, so it can be therapeutic. Not saying you must try it, just that it might be different from what you're thinking!

prodigal academic said...

I can play extrovert when I need to, and I developed social skills with time--I've learned what I've needed to learn to be successful, but it is tiring. I am completely wiped after a conference. I have no desire to have to do this more frequently in the digital world. I am thankful that ProdigalDepartment admits students directly, so I only need to do super-active recruiting on the subset of admitted students, and I don't need to be the person who convinces people to apply. This is where I think social media might have its first real impact on success--in recruiting talent.

Papers and citations are still the proof in the pudding, but getting those results requires talent in the lab. When I worry about the impacts of social media, that is my first thought. I don't really worry about it all that much in the grand scheme of things, but I do think it is something to keep an eye on.

Pyrope, thanks for the description. That does sound more interesting than it looks from a couple of brief pokes at Twitter. That said, I have so many other pulls on my time, I don't really feel the urge to check it out in depth.