On being a contented loner

I have a confession to make: I am a bad Facebook friend. Although I have a Facebook account, I don’t do anything with it. From time to time someone will request that I be their friend and I almost always say yes even if I know them just remotely or they are just a friend of a friend. But to accept them as a friend is about the only time that I even log into my Facebook account. I have the vague sense that I should be doing more with the site, that somehow I am neglecting my Facebook friends, but am not sure what I should be doing.

So why did I join Facebook at all if I was not going to do anything with it? It started long ago when I read about Facebook in an article, when it was still limited to a few ivy league schools. I was intrigued by the concept because I felt that there were not enough avenues for students at Case to meet and socialize and I felt that Facebook might be a good thing to get started here. Since I was not quite sure how it worked, when the opportunity arose for non-ivy leaguers to join up, I was one of the first to do so to check it out. It seemed like a good thing and I recommended to the computer and student affairs people here that we should consider promoting it strongly amongst our students.

Of course, Facebook exploded in popularity without any help from us, and so I let the matter drop and forgot about my account. But after some time people discovered that I had a Facebook account and I slowly started getting requests to be friends. It seemed to me that the polite thing to do was to say yes. After all, how can you say be so churlish as to say no to a request from someone to be your friend? And so my list of Facebook friends slowly grew. Of course, the total number of friends I have is still tiny, in the double digits, unlike some people who have thousands. But I still feel guilty that I am ignoring this small group of people who took the trouble to reach out to me and I sometimes wonder what they think of me (“What a jerk. He never calls. He never writes. He never tells us what he is doing or feeling at the moment.”) I have thought of closing my account but that seems even ruder, like abruptly moving to another city and not giving people a forwarding address. So I am stuck.

(I am also puzzled by the occasional request to be a friend from people whom I do not know in the least, with whom I have no common Facebook friends, and who live in places I have never even been to. Why would they ask a stranger to be their friend? Is there some social networking dynamic that I am not aware of that is causing this?)

My problem is that I am somewhat of a loner. I do not actively seek out the company of people. (This is consistent with the post last week about how my writing pegs me down as an introvert.) I am perfectly content with my own thoughts and books and the internet. I do enjoy occasional socializing with friends, but even then I prefer conversations with a few people than large and noisy parties. If I do attend such a party, I try to find a few congenial companions and spend the entire evening in their company. I enjoy meetings with colleagues at work provided the meetings are not too frequent or go on for too long. After about an hour I start looking forward to going back to the solitude of my office where I can sort out my thoughts and put them into writing.

I also still do not own a cell phone, which shocks many people. When asked why, I reply truthfully that my job is such that emergencies do not arise and people do not need to contact me at short notice. Also my habits are fairly regular so that people can usually reach me at my office or at home. Furthermore, I have lived all my life quite happily without a cell phone and am not convinced that it has suddenly become a can’t-do-without item. In short, a cell phone has not become a functional necessity for me and I try to not clutter up my life with things I don’t need.

But there are two other major reasons that I usually leave unsaid. The first is that I hate talking on the phone. I am much more comfortable writing an email to someone or speaking with them face-to-face than picking up the phone and calling them. If I have to talk to people on the phone because the matter is too complicated to write about or requires a personal touch, I tend to get to the point quickly, and when the matter is settled, try to end the call as politely as I can.

I don’t know why I dislike phone conversations but I know I am not alone in this. Recently on some blogs the discussion turned to this topic and almost all of the bloggers said that they hated talking on the phone too. This is perhaps not too surprising. Bloggers, after all, are people who like the written word and have chosen to express their thoughts in writing.
The other reason that I do not have a cell phone is that I like to be left alone. There are many times when I simply do not want to be contacted. Once you have a cell phone, the presumption becomes that it should always be on, that you should always have it with you, answer all calls immediately, or call back within a few minutes. I have noticed that people get annoyed and frustrated when they call someone’s cell phone and it is not answered or they do not get an immediate callback.

There is an explosion of new ways of being in contact, social networking systems such as Twitter and Second Life being just two. I steadfastly refuse to join any of them unless I absolutely have to.

I did join Second Life out of curiosity when it first came out and because Case was getting deeply involved in it, but stopped doing anything with my avatar soon after, thus repeating my unfortunate Facebook experience. I am probably now as much a social pariah on Second Life as I am on Facebook.

I am not a total Luddite who rejects all new technology. If I need something I will use it. Recently I actually initiated a private social networking group on Ning (thanks to help from Heidi) to facilitate the organization of a college reunion, so I can and will use these devices if I feel the need.

I am well aware that I am fighting the tide on this one. Eventually, everyone will be on many social networks with everyone else, each person constantly aware of what other people are doing. And scattered here and there will be these isolated individuals like me who have no clue as to what is happening all around them.

That realization is a little disturbing. I like to think of myself as a social being and the thought that I am actively shunning avenues for being in touch with other people is troubling, suggesting that I am somewhat of a misanthrope. But not really. I do not hate or distrust humankind. And I am also not like Linus of Peanuts fame when he said, “I love humanity! It’s people I can’t stand!”

I really do like people and humanity. I just don’t want to be in touch with a lot of them all the time and there does not seem to be any word other than ‘loner’ to describe people like me.

POST SCRIPT: Christmas cheer for the godless

British comedians like Ricky Gervais and Robin Ince have organized a program of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People: A Rational Celebration of Christmas.

[Gervais’s] motivation is as benign as it is pro-rationalist. “I wanted to do events around Christmas for people who don’t have any belief, to show that they’re not bitter, Scrooge-like characters. Everyone is going to be approaching the evening from a passionate scientific perspective rather than from a bashing-the-Bible slant.”

For Ince and his missionary friends, the word that needs to be spread is that the universe is wondrous even without faith in a divine plan. Dawkins will read from his book Unweaving the Rainbow, “which is about how science makes things more beautiful and more exciting – not less”.

But by holding this rationalist jamboree so close to Christmas, are they not guilty of provocation?

“If it riles people,” says Ince, “it does so because they’re fools. Anyone who feels we are ‘stealing Christmas away’ would just be half-witted. Some people are desperate to be offended.”

For those who do not know Robin Ince, here is a clip that I have shown before where he compares evolution with creationism and intelligent design.


  1. Chris says

    For a long time I have had difficulty explaining to people my dislike for the phone. I avoid using it whenever possible. I do have a mobile phone. I got my first one when I studied abroad in Finland, because I needed a means of contacting my friends there. I then got one for use in the US shortly before graduation, because I thought it would be useful in the transition from school to work. It is convenient now because there is no phone in my apartment. I still have a prepaid plan because I think it is pointless to spend $30 a month or whatever when I know I only actually need $10 or less of minutes.

    People occasionally invite me to join Facebook or Hi5, but I have so far resisted. I don’t like the idea of people whom I do not know being able to find out about me and my friends and relatives. I prefer to write people letters over email or visit them in person. There’s something about the short messages on Facebook that I don’t like.

    It was interesting to be an RA at Case. I enjoyed talking to my residents and getting to know them, as well as meeting and getting to know various staff at Case, some of whom I eventually introduced to residents at programs I put on. (My favorite being Lynn Singer’s appearance at my “What the hell is a Provost” program.) But all of these interactions wear me out, and I find it very difficult to chat with people at University events for more than an hour or so, unless I’m having an in-depth discussion with one or two people. (Although I always felt like I was maybe unfairly monopolizing these people.) In fact, I find most gatherings of large people to be somewhat exhausting. This is one of the reasons I don’t like the mall. All of the activity and motion wears me out.

  2. says

    The FB thing is quite the phenomenom. I agree in that I’m not always the best FB friend either. Although not always active, I do like it for the ‘ability’ to catch up with people on my terms. Some people are downright addicted to FB though.

  3. says

    The reason I finally broke down and got a Facebook account was that I watched a presentation from Defcon (a blackhat hacker conference that one of our sysadmins attends for security training) called “Satan is on my Friends List”.

    I was not surprised by the presenters’ tales of technical vulnerabilities in social networking sites, but what really struck me was the potential to leverage social networking sites for social engineering attacks against individuals or businesses. The presenters discussed some experiments in impersonating well-known members of the security community who did not have any established presence on social networking sites. In one case, they were able to build a credible LinkedIn profile, complete with photo and biographical data as well as reputable-looking connections and group memberships, in about half an hour. In another case, they were impersonating another member of the security community on Twitter and had created such a credible persona there that the imposter account was being courted by a newspaper for an interview.

    So my primary motivation for signing up on Facebook was to establish my own authentic presence there, lest any FB members that I know or care about be duped by a malicious imitation.

    I was a little shocked, though, at how quickly people that FB suggested I might know accepted my friend requests, even before I’d had the chance to set up anything about the profile that could demonstrate that I was who I purported to be.

    I was initially quite disinterested in Twitter, but parenting has changed my mind about it. I rarely have the time any more for a proper blog post, but I do have time to dash off the occasional quick thought, and it’s somewhat nice to have a record of those as well.

  4. says

    I hope the Ning network works out for you. I’ve just created another that is doing quite well so far. We were even featured on the Ning Blog page.

    Like, you I am also an introvert and prefer e-mail to the phone. I think you’re right that this is common among those of who who like to write. I don’t know why, perhaps I like to take the time to put my thoughts together. My cell phone is in my pocket or backpack, but typically is dead because I forget to charge it. I usually only turn it on if I’m expecting a call, as in if my car is at the shop or some such.

    Despite this, I am a social media junkie. It started innocently enough with Flickr, as I’m also a photography addict. Then I started branching out, mostly because I felt as a Web developer I should be in the know about social media. Then I was hooked. It probably helps that a lot of the early adopters of such things as Twitter and Ning are in the Web field as well--so for us this world is also a way to network with peers.

    But as these technologies become more mainstream, I’ve found that my online life and my brick and mortar life have begun to blur, esp. when I meet online people in real life. It’s really an intriguing phenomena. I’m working on a blog entry about this topic now so I’ll wax forth on it further there.

    In the meantime, when it comes to Facebook, I say use it as much or as little as you want. Welcome to the brave new world.

  5. Dan says

    Hi Mano,

    I recently buckled and bought a mobile phone. The only reason I did this was due to having parents who are getting on in years and believing that I should be contactable quickly if the worst was to happen. Unfortunately, they have been issuing the number rather freely to people who I would rather did not have access to it. The mobile certainly has its pro’s and con’s.

    Since the first email I have sent, I have always loved this form of communication. It gives me a chance to respond to people properly, to give their message the appropriate amount of time and attention, and to prioritize reading and responding to the emails. No phone call ever allows this.

  6. says


    I never ask people for their cell phone number. If they do volunteer to give it to me, I almost never use it, thinking of it as a number to be used only in emergencies. I call their home and leave a message and they often ask me in surprise why I didn’t call their cell!

    I notice, though, that increasingly people ask me for my cell phone number first. They are surprised when I say I don’t have one. After reading your comment, I wonder if they think I really do have one but am reluctant to give the number to them.

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