Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Tuesday 19 April 2011


I've always been shy. To this day I find it difficult to talk to strangers face-to-face; over the years I've learned to do it reasonably effectively when necessary, but I'm still queasy in an adversarial situation. Large groups also freak me out, even amongst people I know --- two weeks of constant social contact with Mozillians just about exhausted my social energy. At least with technical people I don't have the confidence issues I have with other groups.

And yet, it doesn't seem to bother me getting into conflict situations on-line, when that's necessary. It's probably the Internet making the other person seem less than real. Overall I think that's a horrible feature, but it works for me here I guess.

I'm just thinking about this as I grapple with my fear of having to interact with car mechanics, while I'm not afraid to take on mega-corporations :-).


I can only assume that some people have sufficient social finesse that they're perfectly comfortable talking to complete strangers and adapting to whatever situations arise; for people like myself who have to work out social interactions in longhand (as it were), the asynchronous nature of online communication is a blessing. Reading a question and being able to take ten minutes or more to consider the context and compose an answer removes an awful lot of the stress.
Asa Dotzler
I've suffered from extreme stage fright since I was a kid. My teachers (and others) said it would go away as I did more of it. I did a lot of it. It didn't get any better. I still get extremely anxious, dizzy, sweaty, nauseous, a tight throat, and sometimes a headache when I have to speak in front of an audience.
I'm much better at coming across as normal than I was when I was a kid, but the physical symptoms of my stage freight never went away.
Yet, I don't think I'm shy at all. I really enjoy conversation and I'm a social kind of person and I get great satisfaction from speaking publicly.
It just hurts :|
So I'm a anxious extrovert or something.
Dave Herman
Oy. Tell me about it. Before every TC39 face-to-face meeting I spend several days overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety, doom, depression, and even panic.
Oh, well. Suck it up and pretend. It's what everybody does, out there.
Let me tell you that: everybody who used the computer too much in the last decade is pretty shy. Pretty damn shy. And almost everybody did.
There are shy *salesmen* out there, get it? They just act trough their part with prospect clients and when they fail at it, and they do a lot, they just do it again and again and again.
And consider they became shy by using too much EA Sports games and Excel. Text editors and compilers can't do that much damage, come on.
Anyway, in general, I wouldn't recommend doing what you did here. Giving in to public self-centered whining, can seriously damage (residual traces of) confidence.
I'm basically the same way - extroverts seem to get energized by crowds, where an introvert like me needs time to recharge after. I feel like I'm just now barely back to baseline after the all-hands week :)
Robert O'Callahan
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the Mozilla meetings a lot. So I didn't feel like I was whining, just confessing :-).
Z may be right about "faking it" which is basically what I do. But I think he's wrong about the causes and I completely disagree with his characterization of your post.
Also, there are a number of types of anxieties and phobias around social interaction. Some people struggle with one on one communication. Others have a hard time with group settings. Still others struggle with performing or presenting. Not all of them have the same causes and not everyone suffers all of them.
Re Dave Herman's "public self-centered whining": (i) It didn't come across that way, and (ii) it is important that things like your post are said in public from time to time; they are the ways in which we learn to look past the surface and to recognise ourselves in others.
Colin Coghill
How much does context have to do with it?
I find even quite a small crowd totally disabling - even just a large meeting and I'll end up quietly in a corner looking for the way out. You should see me at conferences (you probably won't, I'll be hiding in a corner somewhere)
Yet I stand up and teach large (250 student) lectures. And that's exhausting, but not intimidating, for me.
Online is safe. The monitor is unlikely to start behaving unpredictably and dangerously.
Majken "Lucy" Connor
Z is pretty much dead wrong.
1) Not everyone is faking it. Yeah everyone has anxieties in some way or another, but not everyone is just anxious to begin with towards social situations
2) Using a computer "too much" doesn't cause shyness. It can be a symptom, since it *is* much easier for people with social anxiety to use the computer instead, for the exact reasons you listed
3) Yes, some people are shy, I can be shy (yeah Lucy? what?) but "shy" is different from social anxiety. People who are "shy" will warm up after getting to know a person. A friend of mine told another friend that he suspected an anxiety disorder and wanted to get treatment for it. The guy's response? "you're fine! you're just shy!" (I think you'll agree the anxiety doesn't _feel_ fine)
4. He couldn't be more wrong about speaking out, especially in this community! You're not alone and it really does help others (and yourself) to talk about it. Mozillians really like helping each other out, and sharing their knowledge, including the ones with social anxiety.
Joshua Cranmer
I am also on the rather extreme introverted end of the spectrum; I actually spent part of the last Mozilla Summit napping in the pool [1] just to ... recharge (can't think of a better word). I suspect part of the problem is that I have a noticeable speech impediment; another piece may be a constant nag to editorialize everything a say, so media of communication where I can't rewrite the last few words just doesn't mesh well with me. I think I deleted a phrase in this paragraph no fewer than 4 times in 2 minutes.
I have had a friend of mine comment that he is utterly lost when I try explaining things to him in spoken communication, but when I help via IM, it makes a lot more sense.
So I'm not sure that it is a factor of the web dehumanizing your conversation partners, but rather improved eloquence in written communication as opposed to verbal communication. That, and perhaps the ability to interrupt conversation more easily in written forms as opposed to spoken forms, which is very helpful when trying to go into a long persuasive piece or correct someone's misunderstandings.
Interestingly enough, I've noticed increased ease in presenting in front of a class, as opposed to giving a speech at another ceremony. Notes have nothing to do it (it used to be that I could only ever speak having a full script in front of me; nowadays I do quite well without even notecards), so it may be that the relationship between a TA and a recitation section is significantly easier for me compared to other relationship types.
[1] Napping in the sense of just laying back on a seat in a state of reduced awareness but not anything approaching sleep. I knew I had to make the next session, after all. :-)
Cameron McCormack
I am shy in certain ways. I'm fine with people I know, be it in large or small groups. I'm quite happy teaching classes, even at the start of a semester where I don't know the students yet.
I dislike talking on the telephone to someone I don't know, e.g. someone from a shop, and much prefer going in to the shop to talk face to face.
All Hands meetings are at times stressful for me. The problem is mostly difficulty in introducing myself to people I don't know (although I might know of them) who are in my vicinity. I find it hard to strike up a conversation with someone without a good reason, especially so when people are in the usual conversation groups/teams. This is despite the fact that I actually want to meet everyone! So I tend to keep to myself and talk with people I already know, and just hope that others don't think I'm deliberately being rude or ignoring them.
(Actually, I'm not even sure if "shy" is the right word. Anxiety about the social interaction is probably a better description.)
Robert O'Callahan
Cameron, I agree "shy" probably isn't the right word. Your experience sounds very close to mine. I've gotten better at "introduce myself to people I don't know" simply by practising.
Steve Fink
I'm also a member of this Painfully Shy Anonymous group... or would be if it were a group and I were posting anonymously. Oops.
Like many, I also have some contradictory overcompensations that confuse people.
One thing I've found is that I do far, far better when I don't know *anybody* in a group situation. That makes it far easier to walk up to random people and say "hi, I don't know anybody here, who the heck are you?" (my exact wording is actually a little *more* abrupt than that). If there's even one person around who I know, I'll stick to them like glue, annoying both of us. So now that I've figured this out, I tend to avoid the cliques that I already know. I'll go up to groups of complete strangers and "introduce myself" to them instead. (That's in quotes because I often forget to say anything about myself other than my name; it's easier to quiz them about what they're working on or care about. Besides, the more talking they do, the less I have to do.)
This strategy, btw, totally sucks for building up a network. One person I'm comfortable with poisons a whole group. If I start with the wrong one, I'm pretty much hosed. Especially since I'll never remember their name the next time around unless we totally hit it off. Or I got punched in the gut; that works too.
Oh, and I just met roc in person in Santa Cruz. He fakes it well. :)
Craig Anslow
I agree with Rob about practicing.
One strategy to get better at talking in public is to join user groups and give some presentations. Another is to join a group called ToastMasters which is aimed at helping people to be able to communicate more effectively.
Cheers Craig
Graham from The Confident Man Project
I can relate to many of these comments. I was a socially anxious teenager who got into computers to escape, and spent 20 years working as a computer software engineer. I learned a great deal about how to relate to computers, but didn't do quite so well when it came to people. I appeared pretty confident externally, but that wasn't how I felt inside; and especially not how I felt around women.
But there is hope: it is possible to get to the root of our insecurities so we're not so dependent on other people's approval. At this point, the shyness evaporates. A good place to start is learning better social skills so that social interactions go more smoothly, and you can begin relaxing more around other people. Hit my blog if you want to learn more.