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I spend a lot of time interacting with people online and only a small amounts of time interacting with only a few people in real life.

Before the internet (I am an older introvert) I did not interact with a lot of people in real life.

Would it be reasonable to expect that my new electronic interactions are improving or decreasing my abilities to interact with live people?

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    This is actually a very interesting question, and I'd love to see more detailed information about it than just what people think happens as has been provided thus far. Speaking in-person and typing online are vastly different forms of communication and merely assuming that one improves the other based on vague ideas is a poor assumption. I'd like to see data here. – animuson Jun 27 '17 at 19:37
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    I added the tag "academic-research" because I believe that, without it, this answer should be closed as primarily opinion-based. – Ael Jan 18 '19 at 15:21
  • After thinking more, I'm voting to close this question because none of the actual answers are about scientific research. – Ael Jan 18 '19 at 15:34
  • @Noon : this type of question is very old, and, since then, IPS policy has evolved a lot, even though it should have already closed at the time, too opinion-based here IMO – OldPadawan Jan 18 '19 at 15:46
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Having been very active on many forums in my life, I can say that it can work for or against you, but will most likely work against you if you don't have much real life interaction. The types of interpersonal skills we use on forums can be very different from the ones we use when we are offline.

What we gain from online communication are things like argumentation skills, humor, and a base of general knowledge. I've found these things translate to real life very well.

The skills that atrophy are:

  • Verbal skills
  • Recognition of social cues
  • The ability to easily bond with people over small/irrelevant things.
  • Being able to respond quickly with the right thing to say.
  • Possibly hygiene

Online communication is very convenient and topical, so it teaches us that conversation needs to be relevant and goal-oriented... which is a stringent requirement for offline communication, and it becomes a vicious cycle. Being able to facilitate communication that's [seemingly] not goal-oriented is one of the most important skills you can have on your tool belt because it can make the difference in landing that job you've always wanted or in getting the deal of a lifetime.

It's even possible for you to take on some bad habits like:

  • Not allowing a conversation to end just because you want to be right.
  • Making off-color jokes in inappropriate settings.
  • Using language that may be more technically correct but comes off as talking down to people.
  • Not remembering to close the door when peeing!

To be clear, I don't think the topic of the forum really has much to do with the net result of one's interpersonal skills. It could be electronics or it could be body building.

An answer to your question depends very much on who you want to be interacting with offline. If it's meeting up with other electronics people that makes you happy, there's probably little harm in spending most of your time online. If, on the other hand, you want to improve your interactions with everyday people, you are not doing yourself many favors by spending hours on a forum for such a specialized topic. If electronics is your passion, I would certainly not recommend giving it up – the time you spend on the forum is valuable. You can keep doing that while spending a proportionate amount of time practicing your interpersonal skills, even if that means doing things with people that aren't goal-oriented (which was very hard for me to get over).

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It should improve them, in my opinion. This is because:

  • Any interactions means you are interacting.
  • Collecting your thoughts and feelings in written format should keep those instincts working for you.
  • Thoughtfulness on your part may lead to live interactions later (like getting invited to a birthday party).

It will not help completely. Just start interacting with people live. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Go to the park with your dog, and hope that other dogs -- and their owners -- interact with you. This is the real way to try to overcome your (our) introvertedness. We need to keep interacting with people.

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I personally am very active on an online forum (not this one) and say it can be both good and bad.

It's good because it helps you practise talking and interacting with lots of different people. You will meet people of every type and learning how to talk and interact with them is a valuable tool in the real world when meeting new people. In addition you can learn how to be better as a person, maybe getting advice off others you meet online and using them to your advantage.

However it's not all good, you can spend time working on flourishing your online relationships while neglecting your real ones and causing them to wither away. If you focus more on a few people online, then you can drift away from some real life ones too. Friends in the real world are a lot harder to gain and keep than the ones online, so the consequences of losing one can be severe.

Provided you keep your priorities straight, you should be fine in an online world, but always be careful.

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For our purposes, there are three states of interaction:

  1. Interacting with people in a live environment.
  2. Interacting with people in a virtual (e.g. online) environment.
  3. Little or no interaction with people.

From the sound of it, you have gone from state 3 to state 2. For an introvert, that represents "progress" because you are adding virtual interaction to your total interaction.

For an extrovert, that may represent "decline" if s/he is substituting online for live interaction.

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The key question here is opportunity cost. To what extent are you avoiding opportunities to socialise in person because it is easier to socialise online than in real life?

That said, it is okay to go through a phase where you focus on socialising online if you believe that doing so is helping you build skills more than going out in person is doing.

This is because you can still practise so many skills online that can apply to real life such as:

  • Communicating clearly
  • Humor
  • Telling stories
  • Having interesting things to say about a topic

Note however, that no matter how much you practise these skills online, it will still be very different applying these skills in real life when you have less time to think about what you want to say and how to structure it. It comes down to recognising the extent to which you are still making progress and when you have plateaued. When that happens, you have to be willing to take the dive into focusing more on real life socialisation even if it means spending more of your time in awkward situations.

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My perspective is that you get better at what you do more often. So, when you say that your electronic interactions are improving as more time is being spent online, the answer is yes. But is that the reason why your social skills are degrading? Maybe, maybe not.

If you are interacting with people only electronically, then it's safe to assume that you might want to up your social (read: in person, live, face-to-face) interactions a bit. Because interacting face to face and on the internet are very different. Understanding the right emotion becomes easier in person.

All I'd say is start by meeting people you are most comfortable with, and slowly increase your interactions.

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