The Dread Spectre of Social Awkwardness

Hi again,

First up yes, I didn’t post for a few days. Yes, I’m still the same person who sustained a 150-odd daily post streak last year.

I realised, however, that forcing myself to write is never a good thing; the last few days I was feeling sad, and instead of putting on a happy or upbeat face to write a quirky blog post, I thought eating Oreos and playing Civ V would be a less painful exercise. And, sure enough, I’m now feeling good again, so am getting back to blogging. This isn’t to say that writing in general is destructive when I’m feeling down – the opposite is true, in fact – but writing in this manner, on a personal blog that aims to be amusing most of the time, requires me to be confident in myself, and feel good enough to want to make jokes. If one of these conditions isn’t met, the posts, and the overall blog, will suffer; a lot of the bitchier, more aggressive posts on my last blog came from me writing from a position of sadness and fear, and in those moments anger is a comforting substitute for a real solution.

So there may not be posts absolutely every day on here, but I’m feeling better as a result; if the choice is a blogging streak or my mental health, I’m sorry WordPress, but you’re not winning that one.

Now, let us talk about social awkwardness, a topic analysed, laughed at and cried over by literally everyone to have ever booted up a computer and stumbled waywardly onto the homepage of YouTube, Reddit, or even just Facebook. Some people are afraid of awkwardness, others wear it as a badge of quirky, indie honour, others despise it as the result of an increasingly oversensitive society; and there are a million more opinions held by a billion more people.

My interpretation of this much-analysed social phenomenon is that it’s more of an event than a state of being; people aren’t socially awkward in the way that they’re friendly or anxious, but suffer from socially awkward events in the way that they experience memorably events and painful events.

For instance, today I locked eyes for half a nanosecond with someone who I think is from my course but honestly I couldn’t tell; they smiled at me – so we must know each other from somewhere – and I think I recognised them from the glimpse I got, but I can’t really say.

Now, I would call this a socially awkward situation, but I’d not say that I’m socially awkward. The awkwardness comes from my inability to remember people’s faces, the fact that I struggle to talk to strangers or people I don’t know very well, and the speed of the entire exchange that meant the whole thing was over before I had a chance to respond to it. These traits prevented me from smiling back, or stopping this person to chat about it.

You may call the combination of these traits ‘social awkwardness’ as a trait itself, but socially awkward situations can arise from so many personal traits that I’d find that difficult to do. A situation can be awkward because you’re shy, or not feeling like talking, or distracted by something else, or afraid of that person, or you make a mistake in remembering who they are and what they do, or an infinite number of other very specific behaviours.

To simplify all of this into ‘social awkwardness’ is an oversimplification that I think can be very harmful; I’ve spent a lot of my life not talking to people, or being afraid of sending emails to teachers or calling doctors and dentists, and when I found the Internet and its social awkwardness-blaming culture, I found false comfort. I placed myself in the ‘Irreversibly Socially Awkward’ category, which was comforting for a time, but then I realised I was still unable to make new friends, or keep old ones, or engage in people professionally, so this newfound label didn’t really help. I may have gone too far the other way now – breaking down each of my behaviours and mannerisms to identify which of the rainbow of Sims 4 traits I best personify – but at least I know how I’m flawed in more detail. I know that I used to be very dismissive of other people’s opinions, which I’ve tried to correct in the last eighteen months; I used to treat people with disrespect when they talked about something they liked rather than humouring my by feigning an interest in something I liked, which I’ve also worked on. I’ve not corrected these negative traits entirely, and I have a myriad of others that I probably don’t even realise, but I think I’m a more tolerable and tolerant person than I was two years ago; than I was six months ago, even.

So while diagnosing yourself as socially awkward can be a relief, it’s not a solution as far as I can tell. It’s a cultural phenomenon too broad to ever be improved upon by itself, so I would encourage breaking it down into smaller traits that can be managed, or altered, or unlearned altogether.

The more harmful traits I remove, the less the Dread Spectre of Social Awkwardness hangs over me; unless I lock eyes with an acquaintance in the library, of course.

*touch*

Hello all,

I like touching things.

Ahem.

I was making some notes on poetry today, and these were annotation-type notes, colourful scribbles and circles dragged across a page of verse. I’ve not made these kinds of notes since year thirteen, when we’d be given a big anthology of poetry and be expected to trawl through it for the exam like searching for a needle in a stack of slightly larger and more painful needles.

University, however, appears to not believe in anthologies as a general rule. All my other notes on verse have been made on lined paper, which requires the painstaking process of writing-out quotes of value rather than simply underlining them. There’s also the far less important point that having the poem printed in front of you makes it easier to get a handle on the geography of the poem, but it’s mostly the I-can’t-be-bothered-to-copy out quotes thing.

Most of the work at uni is conducted on computers, as is to be expected in this century. But there’s a glaring lack of tangible resources, and using them is often unweildly, or just difficult: handouts might be printed out for your convenience, but you’ll probably just be directed to some dark, unnavigable corner of Moodle instead; seminars take on a weirdly Wall-E-esque feel as students peer over the tops of their laptops to register the existence of their peers, before scuttling back behind their screens to their Word documents and Football Manager windows. And this isn’t a holier-than-thou boast (honest), as I do it too; this is merely an observation that for a course that was, until say twenty years ago, conducted almost entirely on paper, it’s alarming how quickly such tangible media have been phased out.

The obvious exception to this is the library, a wealth of ideas and confusing Middle English verse printed on actual sheets that one can touch and spill coffee over and attempt to sneak back to the reshelving box without alerting the nearest librarian to the new caffeinated aroma emanating from them. Honestly, one of the reasons that I love the library isn’t that it’s quiet or “feels” like the place to do work, but that it’s a place of learning being literally at your fingertips, rather than everything being wrapped up in the ether of the Internet. I love the Internet, but it always feels more random and spontaneous than reading a book with a single topic, written by someone with a particular goal in mind.

Also, places like libraries remind me of my Sixth Form days, when I was at my most focused and academically productive.

I think that’s why I prefer some artistic media to others. Painting is fun, but I’m less interested in that because the intellectual and artistic merits of it can be somewhat diluted by the fact that you’re gonna hang that painting behind some glass in a corridor somewhere and only use it to show your acquantances how bloody cultured you are. Meanwhile, books are a thing that must be held, and manipulated with the hands; there’s even a certain amount of challenge in deriving meaning from a book, as ideas must be interpreted and, in some cases, language deciphered to get to the heart of the piece. It’s no surprise that my favourite medium, therefore, is the video game, a form that demands engagement from the audience to reveal its secrets, and is entirely meritocratic in its approach; if you want to fully understand what Golden Sun has to teach us about perspective, you’ve got to play both games in their entirety yourself.

While the information era has brought far more advantages than disadvantages – not least the practical concern that if we print much more crap on physical paper there will literally be zero trees left on the planet – there’s something about physical media that excites me. It might be the nostalgia of reading books as a kid before the Internet was really a thing that children had access to, or my scholarly ideal of sitting in an office, drowning in Old Icelandic manuscripts and Skyrim players’ guides.

Either way, I got to hold my latest seminar prep in my hands, and it felt great.

Casey