A long time ago, when the world was young, the Internet was touted as a cure for social isolation. Geeks living in basements constructed entirely out of 12-sided dice could finally interact with others, unhindered by the shame-sweat collecting in their untrimmed beards. Clearly, this has happened for some people. But the Internet, particularly newer forms of social media, has also created a whole new crop of issues for the socially artless among us. For those of us who start every day with a hit in the face from the Awkwardness Crowbar, even face-to-face interaction is easy compared to ...
5Facebook Mediator Duty
Only a few years after Facebook found its way into the Internet's inner tubes, it started to catch on among older, less Internet-savvy people. One minute, it was dominated by college students; the next, your grandmother was trying to place a Cracker Barrel phone order on your wall. And mostly this has been a good thing: If it means less time spent in awkward silence during family phone calls, I'll gladly have every single one of my relatives on Facebook, even the ones who constantly post memes implying that everyone who doesn't share their badly sourced photo is somehow in favor of child abuse.
"If I don't share this with my friends, how will they know where I stand on the controversial topic of animal torture?"
But the influx of relatives, family friends, and old Sunday school teachers has also created a type of social situation not seen since mankind invented the door. Every single person you've ever known is now hanging around in the Internet equivalent of one big, open room, able to interact freely not just with you, but also with each other. Your life has basically become the plot of a British romantic comedy set at a hilariously mismatched wedding.
Sure, you can put filters on your status updates so that only a small group of your Facebook friends will be able to see your links to your erotic Frozen fan art page or whatever, but intra-Facebook strife can arise from status updates that seem completely innocent and uncontroversial, and yet nevertheless turn into a war between your elderly relatives, that one friend who answers everything in old memes, and your cousin who is an MRA.
The issue here isn't that people are yelling at each other online; if that in itself was a problem, the human race would have had no choice by now but to cleanse the planet with fire. It's that these stupid online fights have real repercussions in your life. Your friend isn't antagonizing a random anonymous person; he's baiting a relative that you're going to have to talk to at your next Thanksgiving dinner, where it's extremely likely that she'll bring up the matter of your awful, disrespectful friends. If you tell him to shut up, you're picking on a friend for the sake of someone you see only once a year. You're forced to participate in this awkward Internet-argument balancing act, all because Facebook has taken all the different elements of your social life and stitched them together into a hideous, shambling corpse that keeps ruining all of your jokes.
4Visible Conversation Pauses
You're probably familiar with the typing indicator, the icon in chat programs that lets you know that your conversation partner is mashing out their thoughts on a keyboard. A long time ago, chat programs did not have this little signal: Back then, after you were done typing, you'd just have to stare at the screen and wait, with no clue whether your partner was typing a reply, off drinking coffee, or rubbing their body salaciously against the keyboard. People eventually got tired of this, and nowadays the majority of chat and instant-messaging platforms feature an ellipsis, a moving pencil, or some other sign telling you that the person you're talking to is about to complete a thought.
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Or that they're painstakingly typing out the last "equal" sign in a piece of ASCII penis art.
Obviously, typing indicators have their advantages: You no longer need to wonder whether your chat partner has been shocked into silence by your admission of undying love or has just gotten up to get another taco. But for the socially awkward among us, typing indicators have also introduced us to a whole new landscape of chat-anxiety. As soon as you start writing something, you know the other person can see what you're doing and is waiting for you to speak. If you change your mind and delete what you were typing, they can see you doing it, and now they're wondering what it was you were going to say and oh God now they're judging you.
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"What was I thinking? Twelve equal signs is way too many."
The same awkwardness applies when you're the one watching that stupid little icon. What the hell is the other person taking so long to say? What's up with them typing for 45 seconds and then coming out with a one-word reply? What are they hiding? Is our whole friendship a lie?