Yep, I’m That Person. You know…the one walking around with her eyes glued to her mobile phone. The one who barely realizes that the rest of the world exists…
Except that I’m all-too-aware that the rest of the world exists. And although much of it is beautiful and fascinating, there’s also a large part of it that I don’t necessarily want to interact with.
It’s during those times (the ones where I have my phone stuck in my face) in which I’m trying to shut the world out, even if it’s just for a little while. Because sometimes (OK–frequently) I find it a bit overwhelming and even borderline-obnoxious. Or maybe a bit depressing or hurried. And I want to slow down. I want to be happy. I want to create peace, even if it’s just within myself. I like to have a little micro-world. And I think that that’s OK.
It keeps me happier.
It keeps me calmer.
It keeps me balanced out.
If you see me doing this, I’m not being snobby or self-absorbed. This isn’t a peacock-strutting “see how cool and hip I am? Look at my new phone!!” Nope, it’s not that at all. I know that so far, it sounds like I’m glued to my phone because I’m a stereotypical “Generation Y”-wannabe who can’t see past her own nose, and doesn’t think about anything or anyone any further beyond that. Or maybe it’s just that I’m incapable of actually interacting with people and thus I’m looking to shut everything out in favor of swimming in an ocean of my own self-absorption.
But nope, that’s not the case at all, either. (I promise!). Maybe shutting the world out for a little while, yes, but not out of a sentiment of pretentiousness. It’s more of a need for escape or relief, and I have it in the palm of my hand.
But it goes even further than that. Chances are, that if you see my phone in front of my face, I’m actually making an effort to stay connected to the world at large. Rather than curling in and pushing away, I’m actually reaching out. It’s just that I’m reaching out beyond my own surroundings; I might be reaching halfway around the world.
There’s more to that story…
The odds are that if I’m buried in my mobile screen, I’m actually hanging out on social media. I’m only on two sites at this time with any regularity: Twitter and Facebook, in about that order. I might also be hanging out on WordPress, visiting peoples’ blogs, interacting with their posts, and catching up on replying to comments on mine. And I’ve recently started a LinkedIn page (which is in its infancy right now).
This is because, for me (and I can’t take credit for the sentiment, because I’m not the only one, nor the first one, to express it), social media is a lifeline. On social media, I have an entire community of awesome people at my fingertips, scattered about the world, wherever I may be. I can be sitting on my couch at home, working late at my office, or on vacation/holiday several US states away. As long as I have my mobile with me and access to its mobile network, I’m golden. Everyone is right there with me, and I can be right there with everyone.
Here’s a list (making lists rocks!) of various aspects of social media that I find to be a godsend to me as someone on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum:
Social media gives us a chance to be ourselves, freely and openly.
You can set up multiple accounts if you like, and you can designate different names/handles and avatars/profile pictures for each one. You can go by any name and avatar you want.
You can find and make those friends–and new ones–very quickly. In my experience, you can develop just as deep a bond online as is possible in person.
You can stay tuned in, aware of what’s going on in the world, and keep up with your friends.
With the right community, there’s no need to mask or act, even when interacting with average neurotypical people. Yep, even on Twitter, I can let my true colors out, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether the other person is on the spectrum or not. (Of course, I do usually have fewer misunderstandings with people on the spectrum, because after all–we’re running the same basic operating system. Most of my friends on Facebook are people I tend to know in person and tend to be almost all neurotypical, whereas most of my friends on Twitter are those whom I’ve met online and tend to be neurodivergent, although there are exceptions to those rules on both platforms.)
No matter where you are or when you’re on, someone somewhere is always awake with you to talk to. Do you live in a different corner of the world than some of your best friends? Do you keep different hours because of your job or home life? No problem; message each other, either publicly or privately on social media overnight and respond once you wake up. Time zones essentially cease to matter.
You can come and go as needed, without awkward hellos and goodbyes. Simple statements like, “well, I better run” are usually sufficient in a two-way chat, or, in the case of a discussion, people simply comment as they want to, without needing to worry about timing and responsiveness. (I essentially operate on direct/private message the way I would a discussion or conversation underneath a post; my general modus operandi is that either person can feel free to message the other when it’s convenient for them, each person checks their messages when it’s convenient for them, and then the recipient responds to the sender when they have the time and mental energy.)
Emojis (those little smiley and heart icons found on social media platforms and mobile phones) can help us express ourselves accurately. Sometimes in “real life”, I might stare into space or end up sporting a facial expression or tone of voice that miscommunicates what I actually mean. This might result in that phenomenon of Dreaded Misinterpretation. Using emojis (and anyone who interacts with me on Twitter or Facebook knows that I use them liberally–as in, wholesale) helps me come across with greater affect. In person, the emotion/sentiment might be there, but I might fail to express it; I might appear to be less personable than I’m intending to be. Emojis let me express my true sentiments in a simple and effective way.
Information can be shared with a wide audience, and very quickly. Information can be also obtained very quickly, from trusted, understanding people who already think similarly to the way I do, and likely have similar interests. Thus, the content posted by people in the community has probably already been vetted for its accuracy, motive, etc, and if it runs contrary to what we generally believe/think/know, then usually there’ll be a comment about that, either by the original poster or someone else who replies.
Last but not least, it’s possible to maintain your privacy as needed (thus keeping your work and personal lives separate if needed). For some people, it might be detrimental to their family life, friendship circle, school career, an extracurricular activity, or professional life/career if their Asperger’s/autism status was discovered. Thus, being able to remain anonymous on social media (especially Twitter) or to set up an alternate account (such as on Facebook) can be incredibly helpful. This keeps their true identity relatively protected from the sensitive audiences.
I used to kind of chuckle and shake my head when, while out an about, I saw someone whose attention was consumed solely by their phone. They’d walk and surf, bumping into things and tripping over things while engrossed in whatever was happening on their mobile screen. Now I realize that I AM that person. My phone is akin to a stim activity, helping me deal with stressful or overwhelming situations by giving me something to focus on, and now that I’ve met so many wonderful people on WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook, my mobile has indeed become sort of a life support system, much like my Walkman had been in decades past. 🙂