Internet-shy student laments social media struggles

Katelyn Connolly

Theoretically, I should be able to read a status on social media, come up with a witty response, chuckle softly to myself and post said response in under two seconds. The process is so simple, so common, so efficient. It is practically unimaginable that such an everyday activity could cause someone any sort of grief. Unfortunately, I am not living in this theoretical world of normal online interactions. In reality, the seemingly simple tasks of liking, retweeting, commenting or following take me more like two hours.
I suffer from Social Media Anxiety, a modern and debilitating disease that leaves me paralyzed whenever I come into contact with a stranger or acquaintance on a social media platform — and feel the pressing, nauseating urge to reach out to them. Symptoms include:

• writing, rewriting and finally deleting comments;
• increased heart rate before and after finally responding;
• flushing red for only my computer screen to see;
• immediately regretting every comment, like or reaction;
• hypothesizing the Maximum Level of Annoyance my response will cause others; and
• prophesizing the inevitable social downfall that will come of a harmless comment that will probably be remembered by absolutely zero people.

Most people would not guess at my suffering. On my own Instagram and Facebook pages, I post whatever I want to post, confident in the knowledge that the people lurking these spaces are the people who have an actual interest in me. If they come away with a positive view? Hurrah! If they leave thinking I’m weird or uncool or annoying? Well, they were the ones who searched my name out in the first place. In person, I’m comfortable with anyone and I genuinely prefer making connections IRL than over the Internet. Alas, what a curse it is to be a good conversationalist in a world of character limits.
I guess the root of my problem is a fear of barging into other peoples’ business or a dialogue in which I am not wanted. Face-to-face, it is far easier to pick up on these cues and avoid social missteps. But Social Media Anxiety goes a lot farther than over-sensitivity to common courtesy. Even when it is blatantly obvious that a forum is welcoming the input of all, you can often find me still immobilized by apprehension.
Take, for example, my recent foray into the UT Austin Facebook group for incoming freshmen. I stalked the page for two months, watching others getting their questions answered and forming easy (if admittedly shallow) connections. It took me more than a few weeks to gather up the courage to even “like” a funny comment. I wasn’t disinterested, or too aloof to show my interest. Social Media Anxiety had struck again.
I actually made a cheesy New Year’s Resolution about this — something I rarely do. I promised myself that, with the totally new environment of college fast-approaching, I would have to break out of my online shell and really interact. Quickly, I discovered that with just a few comments about TV and music and films, I was getting friend requests from potential roommates and future Longhorns from across the country. How did I never see that so little effort, with such little risk, would yield such satisfying results?
Okay, so I haven’t turned any of these new “friends” into true homies through the magic of a private message yet, but I’m making progress through mutual-liking and consistently commenting back. Maybe soon I’ll tackle the hurdle of posting (shudder) my own roommate-seeking bio.
Until then, I’ll be sitting here with my shaking hand hovering just above the “post” button, one click away from making peace with my panic.