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Marian Salzman

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Am I Antisocial?

Posted: 01/24/2012 9:50 am

I've started to think I might be. Not textbook antisocial, just allergic to phone calls and small talk. It isn't my fault, though, and I think you might be able to relate.

As the CEO of a public relations agency, my life is all about the business of communication, which captivates and consumes me. But so many years of keeping my head down and my eyes trained on a BlackBerry (actually, two) or a computer has changed the way I relate to others, to the detriment of all old-fashioned forms of communication. I do not write letters and I do not make leisurely coffee dates, nor do I pick up the phone for a chat of any kind, unless my assistant forces my hand. You see, the telephone has become my archnemesis.

The telephone tortures me. I'd rather be at the dentist. (And coming from me, the world's most miserable dental patient, that says it all.) I'm not a voice person at all; if I do have to be on the phone, I am the master of shorter calls and lots of them. This is at least partially because my skull reverberates from the phone, and the metal in my head heats up -- the result of surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2007.

I do have an endless array of people I'm in touch with and maintain a dozen brief dialogues each day by keyboard (I'm someone who has hung onto friends and acquaintances from fourth grade, from ninth grade, from college, from my first ad agency, etc.), but I really do stand very separate and can be shy.

People are stunned to learn what an introvert I am. I'm a trendspotter, after all, one whose job it is to be around people, to understand them, to ask questions of them. The thing is, I enjoy lots and lots of eavesdropping on other people's café conversations and will stop to snoop into strangers' supermarket baskets at places as near as Fairway in Stamford, Conn., and as far as Crawford Market in Mumbai. In my experience, the best trendspotters spend more time listening, reading and watching than they do talking. At least that's what I tell myself, when I'm watching so many phone messages pile up at the corner of my desk (I use my office phone so infrequently that I don't even know my own number -- or the one to the landline at my house).

All day I run both BlackBerrys -- a personal one for visiting old friends and a work one which is a gateway to our global network. I stay in the know about my extended circle by the glow of the computer screen, through tweets and Facebook status updates. I'm often accused of calling or texting back with unwelcome one-word answers, probably even "WTF" or "confused" when the conversation (voice or the textual ramble) has me either bewildered or mildly annoyed. Many friends think I am the master of "Oh, hmm... yuck" versus coherent, interesting, elaborate answers or suggestions. I suppose a whopping "Wow :)" is better than nothing and shows I care?

I could happily spend all day every day by myself, mostly communicating with myself or living through the screen, with the computer mediating all my dialogue. But my afternoons are usually about clients and meetings with staff. I do OK with groups and with content-focused meetings, but I'm not overly keen on small talk or networking and have to force myself to do these kinds of things.

I shake my head to think of how I must appear on the commute to and from work, when I am mostly typing notes and responding to emails and texts. If someone watched me, especially on that trip home, they might think "exhausted middle-aged woman" or "eccentric," but I would prefer they just observed a no-talking zone unless they are someone I've chosen to travel with, a friend or colleague with whom I've planned a travel date. Once I've reached home, I have my best conversations with my two golden retrievers or the 40-inch television screen, none of which talk back.

How has this happened to me? How has this happened to so many of us? It seems that all the hyperconnectedness in today's society is siphoning away our energy for real-life interaction. Some people might call my lifestyle antisocial; I'd prefer to say I'm living the "new normal."

 

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