Social Skydiving
July 17, 2009 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Social Skydiving. An introverted programmer and student decides to overcome his social inhibitions by attempting a conversation with a stranger everyday for thirty days and (obligatorily) blogging the results.
posted by norabarnacl3 (29 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I decided to publically blog my experience with complete humility

That is a contradiction in terms.

But, in all seriousness, I basically respect the guy: he's a decent writer, if a bit long winded, and many parts of his report on days 18-20 really hit home for me. I've only recently been able to crawl out of my own shell and learned how to (force myself to) talk to people; my overall quality of life has improved substantially since then.
posted by Commander Rachek at 9:26 PM on July 17, 2009

A bit tl; dr.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:37 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I read two of the entries about social interaction, although I skipped the "Winners are made of FAIL" essay.

Reading those entries was like mainlining awkward juice.

(Also, "Winner are made of fail"? Really? How the hell do you know what winners are made of? Don't you have to be a winner to make that determination?)
posted by delmoi at 9:57 PM on July 17, 2009

Well, I hope the poor woman in his calculus class doesn't find this.
posted by frobozz at 10:16 PM on July 17, 2009

Man, the Internet is a shoegazing place. You don't see a plurality of TV shows about how hard it is to work in TV, but stuff like this abounds.
posted by hifiparasol at 10:19 PM on July 17, 2009

Seems more like social bungee jumping. That's where you throw yourself into a conversational situation but quickly bounce back to the safety of your laptop to spend twice as much time writing about it.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:26 PM on July 17, 2009 [21 favorites]

I like this idea, actually.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:18 PM on July 17, 2009

People have been doing this for centuries, it's called "going to bars".
posted by orthogonality at 11:22 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Regardless of conceptual flaws, I found his descriptions quite interesting. Thanks for posting it.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:22 PM on July 17, 2009

I came in here all ready to defend this guy. I am on record saying the world needs more shoegazing, not less. Everyone should express their feelings as much as they can, all the time, and if you don't want to hear it, don't listen. Repression, of self or others, is never a worthy goal.

Then I read the blog. Positioning yourself as an outsider or underdog is a big head start to being likable, but it's not a guarantee. As we see here.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:26 PM on July 17, 2009

Put another way:

Ineptitude != humility.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:27 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

delmoi How the hell do you know what winners are made of? Don't you have to be a winner to make that determination?
I'm pretty sure that winners, like losers, are made out of meat.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:00 AM on July 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

So going through this guys older blog posts yields:

"Tonight my wife and I are going to be going to our first Tenacious D concert!"

posted by Nomiconic at 12:44 AM on July 18, 2009

I like this idea, but... man this guy talks about himself a lot. I wanted to read more about the interactions and how he could improve on them, rather than about how awesome he is for doing this in the first place. I think he's kind of missing the point of social interaction with all this self-centered naval gazing.

Also he just posted about MeFi. Hi Justin! :p
posted by skintension at 12:55 AM on July 18, 2009

I did this.

Well, what I did was not exactly this rigid or linear, it took years, and I didn't write about it, but one day I was sick and tired of being introverted and avoidant, and decided to forcibly put myself out there.

Throughout my life, up until college, I was labeled as a "loner", a "bookworm", a "walking dictionary" (which I took as compliments) and was teased for my overall quietness and satisfaction with just reading, reading, doodling, and reading some more. I rarely talked except when called upon in class, and barely had any friends. Then came the age of the Internet, particularly online journalling and IRC, and I found that I was articulate, had a lot of things to say, well-liked, and made friends easily. Of course, I wanted to know how I could translate this into real life social success, so when someone told me to stop talking to computers and start talking to people, I listened.

I only had one rule: accept all invitations. I forced myself to go to parties, attend events my friends and acquaintances told me about, and show up at meet-ups. It was very hard at first, but I willed myself to go against my natural instinct to just curl up in bed or go online to write or chat. At parties and meet-ups, I learned to focus attention away from myself and asked people about themselves. (It was easy, I was naturally curious.) I wasn't so bold as to strike up conversations with strangers out of the blue, but when a stranger talked to me, I talked back. Instead of just looking out the window and replying monosylabbically, I started engaging in conversations with taxi drivers. Eventually, I was comfortable enough to make off-handed comments in a queue or a crowd, to see if anyone would agree or disagree. And what do you know, it worked. I realized, hey, meeting people is easy! And there was nothing scary about them anymore, because by talking to them I found out that they were no better or worse than I, we were all going through the same shit, had the same insecurities, and wanted the same good things.

The ultimate test for me was to jump into a corporation where it would be my job to talk to people 8 hours a day. A year and a half later, I was promoted and given a team of 16 to manage, a challenge I surprisingly excitedly took up. Oh, I feel I'm still an introvert at heart, because I value my solitude and need my quiet time to recharge, and still spend a silly amount of time online. But every now and then I still pat myself on the back for having come such a long way from being the loner girl who never talked.

So, good job on the social skydiving, Justin. Keep it up, no matter what anyone says!
posted by Lush at 1:19 AM on July 18, 2009 [20 favorites]

Argh... I meant monosyllabic!
posted by Lush at 1:23 AM on July 18, 2009

Also: I do respect the basic idea of what this dude is doing. I did my own similar thing with my own social epiphanies, but I think this kind of thing is an extreme measure.

The friends I've made, the good ones at least, are people I was around for an extended period for some other purpose, school or work or whatever. That's a pretty good selection process for who you'd want as a friend, and mostly I found the people I wanted as friends wanted me as a friend too. I got good at socializing by socializing with those people, who I trusted to tell me if I was being awkward, and who I had good reasons not to act awkward around.

And you know what? When you can talk to your friends, you eventually realize the best way to talk to strangers is like they're already your friends. That if you're interested in what people have to say they'll become interesting. Because there is zero risk in treating the people you meet like they think and feel just as much as you. That's really all there is to it for me, is giving people an opportunity to be interesting. They pretty much always are.
posted by Nomiconic at 2:08 AM on July 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

He almost lost me with "*rawr*", for some reason I have terrible visual images of what that word means, who says it, and what comes afterwards...

anyway.. I'm surprised he found the comments here as overly critical, for the most part they are positive and encouraging. I found it amusing that he said "I'm not going to defend myself against any of the criticism. " and then did just that for a page or DO need to understand, Justin, that, when you post it on the internet, the snark will follow!

Bottom line, good for you, Justin, it was a tough thing you decided to do, I hope the end result is a more positive view of who you are..
posted by HuronBob at 3:36 AM on July 18, 2009

I've been on the fence about going out this afternoon and meeting a bunch of random strangers with whom my only (known) shared interest is this website..."social skydiving" is pretty much exactly what it feels like to me. I keep telling people, I'm not afraid of heights--I'm afraid of falling.

Now I just have to buck up and be more like Lush.
posted by miratime at 4:33 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Justin alot of folks at metafilter agree with you that failing is the best way to become good at something.
posted by bigmusic at 4:39 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been doing this all my life and it never gets any easier. But it's like treading water: the day you stop, you sink (in my case, back into poverty). Many more people than you think, however, are also treading water, and they are grateful to you to a.) starting the conversation and, b.) keeping it going. I agree with twoleftfeet that what Justin is doing it more like bungeejumping than parachuting. But it's a start. Because once you've had one conversation with a stranger in your building, you're obliged to acknowledge him or her every time you see them from there on in -- and the question at that point becomes "Now what?" Do you deepen the relationship with further conversation, or do you let one another fade back into the crowd? Because introverts are inexperienced in social interaction, and take each encounter far more seriously than extroverts, they run the risk of falling into unfortunate relationships that they find it awkward and impossible to get out of. For instance, that obnoxious woman in the calculus class. She's so self-centered it's possible that Justin hasn't really registered on her consciousness yet. But with a few more conversations, and she may decide she wants to go to bed with him -- and Justin will be in for it big time....
posted by Faze at 4:45 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I used to be a pretty shy person with a very small, very inward looking circle of friends. I found interaction with strangers tough, but never really let that stop me doing what I wanted to do. Then, when I was 25 or so, I got a job as a TV researcher. Now that is a job which requires you to meet and befriend people of every social class, sexual persuasion, age, criminal proclivity... over and over and over again. Whether you like them or not. Whether you find them boring or not. You just have to be able to get on with them pretty much instantly.

Can you say baptism of fire?

But you know what, it's not that hard. What it does involve is, bizarrely, not caring what people think of you. You act like a friendly and outgoing person, and ignore your feelings of insecurity. And you know what, pretty soon you ARE a friendly and outgoing person.

Most people like to talk about themselves. So you ask a few non-intrusive questions and sit back and listen. If you find something in common ("Yeah, I love that band!") mention it. If you HATE that band, bite your tongue. Above all, don't judge. Assume that everyone has something uniquely interesting about them and it is your mission to find out what it is. Everyone has a subject which lights them up. I can generally figure it out in five minutes, often much less.

There are a few simple ploys that work almost every time. Weather is great. What are you doing for the weekend? Read any good books? Heard any good new music? And so on.

I wouldn't want to speak for everyone but it was certainly the case for me that shyness was a personality choice rather than a personality trait. Nobody now would mistake me for a shy person, although my wife knows that a lot of the time I will avoid a social situation if I'm feeling tired and not up to making an effort.
posted by unSane at 5:53 AM on July 18, 2009

I've sorta got this problem (I was always shy and introverted as a child). But it was exacerbated by PTSD, and I pretty much avoid people as best I can. I'm not totally crazy with PTSD, don't walk around the house at 2 AM with a gun 'patrolling' or anything like that. But I get very uncomfortable proportional to the number of people around me, so I stay away from people, by and large. I always keep my back to a wall, and count exits in case of need to flee, and mentally catalog people who *could* be a threat (if they chose to be). Another symptom of PTSD is the subtle but pervasive feeling of impending doom, which has HUGE effects, especially draining motivation. Why do this or do that if I'm gonna be dead next year? The social anxiety seems like it'd be worse, but that feeling of impending doom is a terribly powerful motivation-drainer. Rationally, I know this is all the result of my neural network getting some bad wiring in my (rather rough) childhood, but that doesn't make it much easier. The symptom of being super-aware of potential threats around you: that one is called 'hyper-vigilance'. Arguably, my hyper-vigilance saved my life and my significant other's life a few years ago, when I became aware of impending danger (in the form of a house fire) at 5:15 AM on a Sunday morning. I was able to quickly diagnose the severity of the fire (hopeless, get the fark out!), and get us and our pets out safely.

Fortunately, I've got both a good sense of humor and a sense of perspective; I know a whole lot of people in the world have things far worse than I do, so if they can handle THAT (whatever hardship it may be), then I can handle THIS. Sometimes it's hard though.
posted by jamstigator at 6:25 AM on July 18, 2009

It's not my goal with this blog to make friends.
perhaps justin would do well to cross-over to reality tv show?

i do appreciate his honesty. he is writing how he feels, and i will not knock that.
posted by the aloha at 7:25 AM on July 18, 2009

hifiparasol > Man, the Internet is a shoegazing place. You don't see a plurality of TV shows about how hard it is to work in TV, but stuff like this abounds.

Someone's never had cable.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 7:30 AM on July 18, 2009

The experiment reminds me of Albert Ellis' commitment to ask 100 women in the park for a date. He wrote something along the lines of how he was slapped 5 times, ignored 80 times, laughed at 6 times....etc etc ending with "accepted 9 times". Dates he would never have had except for "volume" mentality. I like that Justin gave himself this assignment. It is odd that he sees mostly the criticism in the comments instead of the kudos.
posted by naplesyellow at 11:38 AM on July 18, 2009

I think that what grates on some people is that even though the exercise is about to end, the blog is still mostly inwards-directed as opposed to others-directed, which suggests a failure of extrovertification. Granted, it's a self-journey, but 30 days talking to 30 strangers as a concept would have been an amazing opportunity to tell stories about different people, considering a classic technique of relieving social anxiety is to focus on others, not yourself. Others still would have probably liked Justin to delve deeper, follow through, and actually become friends with some of them, instead of writing so much about his internal processes so soon after the fact. At least I think that's where the bungee-jump comments are coming from, and I agree to some extent, because it also seems counter-intuitive not to let insights marinate for a while before committing them to paper (so to speak).

Then again, if you've been an introvert your whole life, you can't reasonably become an extrovert in just 30 days. But embarking on such an exercise is a start. Baby steps. Let's cut him some slack; at least more introverts are now aware of the exercise and can try it themselves.
posted by Lush at 12:57 PM on July 18, 2009

For the introverts that are reading this blog, of course. Such advice has been given in dating books and workplace relationship books for years. Part of the snark is coming from the fact that none of this is really news - it's just that people don't like to do what's uncomfortable unless they're either forced to or make themselves do.
posted by calwatch at 4:01 PM on July 18, 2009

This personality type seems endemic to tech workers in Seattle for some reason. I've met so many guys like this--they treat conversations with fellow humans like encounters with creatures from Alpha Centauri. They appear sweatily uncomfortable unless they're in front of a screen (laptop, television, videogame console, mobile phone) and react to eye contact with visible fear. They feel it's just awful for others to sit in judgment of them while, say, assuming all Mexican people are "hoodlums" plotting, in Spanish, to steal their iPhones and "hurt" them. They say things such as "I feel like I'm in a movie!" when anything mildly interesting happens, and are uncomfortable in situations that they have not previously seen depicted fictionally. They relate universal experiences as if impressed with their own uniqueness. I swear sometimes there's some Aspergers-inducing substance in the municipal water supply.
posted by cirocco at 9:26 AM on July 20, 2009

« Older The Best Phallic Image You Will See in the News...   |   Yet another reason to get a laser-cutter Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments