You, Me and, Maybe, Just Us Three

Sometimes wish I were more extroverted, that I were that carefree gregarious type  of person who knows everyone and whom everyone knows, the one who has hundreds of Facebook friends and thousands of twitter followers, that person who knows how to engage effortlessly and can move a crowd and work it into a joyous frenzy like a talented stand-up comedian. You know those people, those free spirits who make friends and connections instantly, those wonderful human beings who “know where the party at”, those “who got the hook up”. I look on admiringly at those confident men and women, the ones who always know what to say and what to do to get whatever they want almost instantly: a job, a sale, sex, a favour, whatever.

In my darker moments, I wonder whether being more outgoing would ease the worries, but the idea of actually stepping out of myself into that kind of world makes my stomach clench. I sometimes avoid people in order to avoid the obligatory small talk. I will see someone I know, and take a corner I need not have had to take, or turn my face sideways and keep walking, not too fast lest I draw attention to myself, or ignore them on purpose to avoid having to chat with them for even a few minutes. I will ignore a phone call because I know the person on the other end is talkative and I would much rather just watch The Wire or read a book. I feel somewhat bad about this, but now you know why I do not take all your calls.

More often than not, quiet people, those who often prefer to keep to themselves, are viewed with suspicion. I remember when I was a child I was always being coaxed into going to play with the other children and I could never understand what the issue was with keeping to myself. Even today, I find myself shying away from activities that require an extroverted concerted effort. Needless to say, I have never been part of a team, sporting or otherwise, and even when I was included in one, I felt that I was working at a remove from the others.

Do not get me wrong, I am not antisocial or lacking in confidence, although I can always do better. I know how to approach people and communicate effectively and interact very well. I just find the whole rigmarole of social obligation cumbersome. The formalities and the minutiae often involved in relating with people make my eyes glaze over. With the advent of social media, it feels as though a lot of our engagements are increasingly prosaic. Contact and communication at the click of a button has made deep meaningful person-to-person interactions both more necessary than ever and more challenging.

I realize the irony of this: an introvert complaining that social media has diminished the quality of his interactions. One would imagine that the increased ability to talk cheaply and easily would be most welcome for people like me. It is not. Even when I do talk to people in person, soon enough the conversations segue onto WhatsApp, and seldom, into phone calls and emails, which require more than a bare minimum of effort. This is why I have left most of the WhatsApp groups I had been added to. I just could not keep up with them. They always seemed to be talking too damn much and not saying anything!

It is often touted that phones (and computers and similar technologies) are an excellent way to keep in touch. I do not dispute that, but you cannot compare them with the beauty of a one-on-one conversation with a gifted interlocutor. Nothing beats being physically there with someone, seeing their expressions, watching how they curl their lips and move their hands about as they emphasize a point. It may even verge on the magical, the way they form their sentences and use expressions, their accents and their peculiar turns of phrase, and their particular starts and stops. It is the way they speak with their whole bodies, how they will not look into your eyes when they are talking about something deeply personal, the often self-conscious laughter and the sighs, the movements of their eyelids and shoulders, how they shift their feet and cross and uncross their legs. All these things make up a great chat. Contrast that to the emojis, the LOLs, the SMHs and the, no doubt funny, memes and GIFs.

Crowds tire me, and the increased connectivity has seemed to bring them closer. Maybe this is why I stand in awe of people who go to clubs and parties and actually meet people and talk with them. With all that noise and pushing and shoving and you still got heard?! It always seems to me that I would be competing with the DJ and tens of people in a dimly-lit often smoky place, where, ha ha, most of the people are on their phones anyway. It is almost as if we are losing our ability to be with other people away from a screen. I would think since clubs and parties are social places, one would, well, be social.

This was supposed to be about my introversion and it may have ended up coming off as a Luddite-like rant against modern communication, with hints of a prudish aversion to having a great time. This is not my intention. I merely aim to show how ridiculous I find the modern social landscape and how I feel some authenticity has been lost in it. Granted, social gatherings of most sorts – parties and teams of work – are not a recent phenomenon. I bring them up to juxtapose just how much I prefer a shared personal aloneness to the verve and mostly shallow connections of a relatively large gathering. I would probably fare much better in a quieter setting, albeit with more people. Then I would be sure to find my tribes-people, the ones who drift away from the madding crowd. Intimate person-to-person interactions, in a quiet restaurant or a long slow walk along shaded roads will do it for me, and maybe afterwards, some more quiet time with a book or a cartoon or music shared with that interesting someone or “someones”. Or alone.

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