Wednesday, December 6, 2006

BionicPulse Meetup: Dancing with a Stranger...

(Holiday Meetup Click here) Not ready read below:

Social anxiety is a real condition. It even has its own society, known  as the Social Anxiety Association, I am not sure how difficult it is to join, but you can insert punchline here on how many show up to meetings.

According to the National Institute of Health: People with social phobia have a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions.

I have a meetup called BionicPulse that I began. I do not suffer from social anxiety. One would presuppose that people who join would be devoid of social anxiety. Yet, consistently the majority of members of every group I analyzed only 5-8 percent show up on any  given meetup. On average half of those who RSVP do not show up. So what is going on?

To find out if you have social anxiety or maybe place yourself somewhere in the spectrum of social phobia, Columbia University has a free online test. Please take it here.

I scored a 29 which is in the lowest unlikely 0-30 category. I was surprised that I scored as high as I did. If your not sure you want to join BionicPulse meetup I ask that you take the test, and respond to this blog on whether the test changed your mind.

After you score high and you demand a bottle of Effexor a drug for SAD, I would like to introduce you to a novel treatment. A virtual reality world known as Second Life.

Second Life is a free online 3-D world where you can create any kind of character and travel around and talk others. You can walk or fly and even build your own store or house.

I tried an experiment. Unlike other online worlds SecondLife has no violence, it has no criminals per se, and there is no death. No fear. So I sought out to find if it were possible to find true Tenderness.

Let me define my idea of true Tenderness: An act of kindness without regard to ones own fragility. Helping others to succeed, at the expense of ones own goals.

I was unable to find it. I was unable to find any charity. All kinds of virtual businesses have set up shop in SecondLife, bookstores, musicians, virtual 3-D furniture stores for your virtual home, and of course even sex shops.

There is no fee to use SecondLife, but all commerce is transacted through Linden dollars. And Linden Labs the maker of SecondLife makes a fee on all transactions I.e. eBay. If you want a permanent storefront or house, you also must pay Linden Labs for the virtual land. But you can roam around meeting all types of characters for free as long as you want.

I mention charity because while I was in SecondLife, the hurricane Katrina hit just a few weeks before. I thought 200,000 plus CPUs and GPUs buzzing away building virtual 3-D houses and stores and not one cent to a charity for Katrina victims. Ironic.

I had one moment though that was a break through. I was always shy as a child. I am audio dyslexic, so I spoke later than most babies...Yet I overcame my disabilities and speak in public often in my life, and have little problem mingling at parties or clubs.

So late one night I was flying around visiting online 3-D casinos and found a site for ballroom dancing. It was a virtual lillypad of fireflies and buttercups floating over a copper sea. The large lillypad had built in scripts that when you and a partner entered onto a lillypad your characters were able to dance cha-cha, foxtrot, and salsa dance steps with out touching a single key.

I can actually ballroom dance, I have taken over two years of lessons and so I know what it should look like. Yet I rarely if ever dance with anyone other than my wife ever. The moment magic happened is when I asked a perfect stranger to dance. I am not a great ballroom dancer, still a beginner and usually terrified to reveal my weakness in any specific type of dance. But I felt some kind of emotion from being able to dance with a stranger without fear of what she thought of my dancing... It was all software.

When her intended partner finally appeared, I told her she was a very good dancer and disappeared. But I experienced no shame, no embarrassment. I realized that I could travel around and simply move on from one event to another.

I left SecondLife forever after that night.

What I learned was I did have some social anxiety, no not severe, but enough that asking a stranger to dance in real life made fearful enough to realize that when I was not responsible for the dancing I felt no shame. And why should I feel shame even if I wasn't a great dancer. I could just move on and continue to travel from one event in my first life to another.

Though her act of dancing with a stranger was not an intentional act of tenderness, it still was a gentle caring act without judgement. It aided me far more than I believe it could have aided her. Though I doubt she was fearful of any danger or harm to her, I was able to overcome my fear of Dancing with a Stranger.  


  1. "One would presuppose that people who join would be devoid of social anxiety."

    Or, perhaps, social anxiety sufferers are just a bit more likely to join online groups such as simply because of the relative detachment and anonymity such an environment offers, allowing them to stretch themselves just a bit farther than they'd ever feel safely able to do in real life. At least, until it comes time for a real meet-up, in which case, many social anxiety sufferers will chicken out and not show up...

  2. "I've not been active in Mensa (despite being a member since about 1996 or so), and there doesn't seem to be a lot Mensa-ish to be active in around here, so..."

    I suggest you take the social anxiety test, and let me know if your hypothesis is correct?

  3. Not sure what a social anxiety test has to do with what you quote above about Mensa activity, but...

    One, I'm quite familiar with social anxiety, as well as the extent to which I've fit the description. :-/

    Two, my musing above is not an original supposition on my part. I've seen plenty of others muse over the same phenomenon, engage others in online chats and boards in ways well beyond what they'd ever consider doing in person, etc. (And not just social anxiety sufferers, either.) It clearly doesn't work that way for everyone, but online anonymity does make a lot of things easier for many people, some of them even good things...