Saturday, 11 June 2011

Social anxieties

OK, this isn't what I was planning for my next post, but I saw this video by meekakitty on youtube, and it kind of resonated with me because I have the same issues.
Watch the video. Yes, I'm about to summarise the pertinent points before talking about them myself, that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch the original video. Anyway, it's amusing.

So, the point is, rather specific social anxieties - specifically, as mentioned in the video, phone calls and chance encounters (Not to be confused with random encounters, which are a D&D thing and usually much simpler). Like meekakitty, I sometimes have problems with both those things.

One of the significant reasons for this, I think, is lack of context. Both cases are things which happen in real time, so you're taking your interlocutor away from whatever they were doing beforehand, and you don't know what that was. Was it something important that they really need to get back to? Or were they just procrastinating, nothing significant and they'll be happy to chat for a while? You don't know! So you don't know on what sort of footing the conversation should be. It's confusing.
A slightly relevant, though somewhat insane, quote to this may be found in an episode of Coupling. (Wikipedia link for those unfamiliar with the show)
Jeff (An endless source of strangeness and insanity) comes out with words to the effect of this (I can't remember it word for word):
"I hate phoning. You never know what's going on at the other end. It's like, all of a sudden, you're in the middle of someone's house. There could be anything out there. There could be old people naked."
"...You wouldn't be able to see them."
"Yeah, but they could be out there! Rustling."

And while I don't generally imagine that there will be naked old people in the vicinity of people I'm phoning, the fact remains that you don't know what you may be interrupting. And I don't like feeling like I'm intruding, so it becomes potentially awkward. This is why internet communication is generally fine, particularly internet forums - it's not in real time. You say something, and other people can respond in their own time.
That said, there are sometimes things which work much better with real time conversation, so for those I just have to swallow my anxieties, screw my courage to the sticking place, and pick up the phone.

Of course, if someone phones me, that's a different matter. Because they're dictating the conversation so it'll obviously be suited to them, the relevant context is mine, and I know what I'm doing. So then I only have more usual social anxieties to worry about, and the fact I can't get anything from their body language which I can't see and I'll worry that I'll mishear something. So still some issues, but not so bad. Oh, unless if I've been phoned up by someone I don't actually know. Then it's still an issue, because there's a lack of context again. I don't know this person, I don't know how to respond to them.

Interesting. I've never really thought this through before, but it makes a lot of sense now I am. Not that this is likely to help me feel less nervous the next time I have to phone someone, but at least I know why it makes me nervous. I value that.
Oh, also if a phone call was pre-arranged I'm fairly OK with it.
And I'm OK with phoning my mum to ask for a lift home, because even though I might be interrupting something, I suppose there's an admittedly slightly selfish natural assumption that she will be available at my beck and call because she's my mother.

Now, onto chance encounters. You randomly bump into someone you know in the street. You feel somewhat obligated to say "Hi," and chat for a bit, but again there's a lack of context. How much time do they have to chat? Now sometimes one of you will be in a hurry and just go sort of "Hi, can't stop to chat, sorry, bye!" Or you might just wave at each other and keep walking and that'll be assumed. But once you've reached the point of stopping to stand there and chat, you're in unknown territory.
And there's another sort of lack of context here - in general, if you phone someone, you have some specific reason for doing so, something in particular to talk to them about. If you see someone at some pre-organised event, a rehearsal, a cinema trip, a party, there's some context for what you can talk to them about, determined by the nature of the event. And you know with a fair amount of confidence how much time they have for this chat so you know how much detail you can go into.
But a chance encounter? You don't have the prompting of an event having a specific purpose. You don't know if your interlocutor has to rush off momentarily or if they have time to hear a more detailed recital of your woes. So often you get something like this:
"So how are you?"
He probably has to be somewhere, don't want to keep him, so I'll keep it short. "Fine. You?"
Ditto. "Fine."
"So, uh... I guess I'll see you soon?"
"Yeah, see you."
Man, that was awkward.
Seriously, we get on fine normally, why was that so weird?

Also,  because of course it's an in-passing sort of thing, you may not feel at your most comfortable. At other events, you'd be able to find a seat, or something to lean against, or at least choose a specific place to stand, rather than just being paused somewhere between places. This can lead to feeling awkward even if the conversation goes fine - particularly if said conversation is longer than you anticipated.

So there you have it. A little insight into the mind of me, and probably numerous other awkward nerdy people.

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