Shy Internet Users: the reasons we are shy
Social media obviously favors the extroverts in our society The people who post the most and say the most exciting things are the ones that get noticed. Those who join into to discussions and curate the culture get counted. They define the conversation, the trending topics. But what about the shy people? These people are often busy observing the more out-spoken people, without engaging. But these people exist, and they are many. As a shy user for many years, I understand the reasons why. It was not that I didn’t have opinions, feedback, criticism. There were just reasons I worried about sharing them openly.
The reason’s for shyness are numerous and sometimes specific to the individual. Some people are naturally shy, in life and online. They have fear of other people, or of being noticed. For a while the internet actually opened a number of doors to many of these naturally shy people, giving them a chance to get their ideas out in public without being recognized.
When social media came along, it in some way scaled that unlimited freedom back. All of the sudden you required a log-in, a link to your email, a profile pic. You had to come clean. And so that anonymity of the chat rooms and forums has started to fade away. There are still places where you can still be anonymous and within social media there are ways around this. But it takes time to make a new email account, to register a new user. And social media only really well works for you when you are being yourselves or at least some version of yourselves.
But I am not someone who is particularly shy in real life. And yet I, and others like me, have also had some trepidation with the whole social media phenomenon. Before sharing out lives, we wanted to watch to see how it would role out. And at every turn, we learned our content was no longer ours, that our private info was being callously shared. Some of us don’t like that. And we do care, even if companies and a large part of the media savvy world don’t seem to.
There are still reasons you should not share everything, but I worry these reasons are being forgotten. In a free society you should be able to share what you want without repercussions. But if the society starts to show signs of growing inequality, witch-hunt like mentalities (ex. in the name of stomping out terrorism), censorship and growing discontent, that free speech we so love could become a liability. Everything you have said is time-stamped. No one will need your neighbors to spy on you, you have already broadcast it. (I live in east berlin. Remember that only 25 years ago, people were still spying on each other here, with terrible consequences)
REVENGE OF THE SHY
Although shy users are not so visible and people have complained that they are not relevant, they still do matter. As Wired founding executive editor Kevin Kelly points out in this great article, the shy users, ex-users, unreliable users and spammers on social media skew the stats. They make some people, ideas or affiliations appear important when they aren’t. They make celebrities appear more “famous” than they actually are, companies more popular than their products actually will be. Social media fans are pissed at these so called “Ciphers”. But instead of railing against the shy users, why not first try and understand why they are shy, and find new ways to encourage them to join in on the worldwide brainstorm (that is the internet)!
Lastly, though once a shy user, I have switched over (to the dark side?) quite recently. Why? Well I decided that I know the risks, and I am willing to navigate them, if I can have a say in the way the world is being defined. But I still believe that the world would be wise to make platforms that are safe and fair to the shy user. They are an untapped part of the human common online intelligence, that I don’t think they should be ignored.