The Golden Age of Introversion

Paul Raven @ 03-08-2011

Via Kottke, a piece at The Atlantic that offers up the internet as the best thing that ever happened to introverts:

For introverts like myself, it takes energy to engage with other people. Doing so requires thoughtfulness. It’s tiring. Expending energy, for us, isn’t energizing. Please note: we’re not talking about shyness, some character flaw. The problem isn’t with the introvert — it’s with the demands you make on the introvert. An introvert can’t force an extrovert to sit quietly in a room and read a book, but extroverts (and the stigmas they’ve inadvertently created) can impose social demands with ease…

Hmm. Speaking as an introvert, I can certainly see where the charmingly-named Mister Bump is going with this; asynchronous communications are vastly preferable to unexpected phonecalls (I could count the number of voice calls I’ve made or received from people outside my family in the last year on my fingers and still have some spare), and the ability to work effectively as part of a team without having to endure physical proximity – or the social-lubricant conversation that comes with it – is a great relief to me.

What I’m not so keen on is the air of oppressed superiority that exudes from Bump’s post as it continues; a smugness, a meek-are-inheriting-the-earthness. I also resent the portrayal of introverts as having to lie and deceive in order to avoid situations they find uncomfortable. Maybe in the world of business the face-to-face meeting is unavoidable, but what sort of idiotic statement is “[c]ars were invented, meaning you had no excuse for not traveling across town”? Did you need an excuse, other than “sorry, I’m doing something else then?” Why rely on this “illusion of busyness” that social media apparently allows you to construct so much more easily? Is American culture really so different to British that the notion of saying to someone “no, actually I just stayed at home and read books all weekend, it was lovely” is somehow a betrayal of your national values?

(If that really is the case, then stop the presses – I think I may have found one of the root causes of your current cultural malaise. This obsession with taking sides in a warring binary schism is clearly not limited to the political arena, and it’s going to tear your nation apart if you don’t let it go.)

As the old joke goes: there are two sorts of people in the world, those who divide the world into two sorts of people and those who don’t. Introverts aren’t better than extroverts, or vice versa; we’re just wired differently. OK, sure, perhaps network culture has brought introverts opportunities for fulfilling work and social lives that had been erased by industrialisation and urbanisation; that’s surely a fine thing, especially if you’re an introvert.

But if you are an introvert, you might want to consider that perhaps framing your introversion as some sort of cultural face-off with the other half of the population may be a more dominant cause of your sense of put-upon-ness than the extroverts themselves.

Just sayin’.

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5 Responses to “The Golden Age of Introversion”

  1. Butcherbird says:

    Speaking as an introvert living across the pond from you; I would say yes to your query about American values and being leisurely on the weekends.
    I work in an office of a few hundred people, and when Monday rolls around and I am invariable asked what I did for the weekend, I get the standard slack jawed look when I tell them “Nothing. And it was everything I hoped it would be.”
    I can’t speak for the UK, but it seems as though the standard American feels the need to pack every free moment with “going somewhere, doing something, seeing someone.” I, on the other hand, sit around hanging out with my wife and kids, reading, playing video games, etc. I love it. But, as you say, this does not make me better or worse; just different… and a bit strange in comparison to the norm.

    Also, you are absolutely right about the binary nature of Americans. There is no middle ground anymore. Everyone talks about it; about how we need more moderates, yadda yadda yadda… but when it comes down to it, everyone is quick to take a side. You are either for or against gun control, conservative or liberal, chocolate or vanilla. It seems no one wants Neopolitan ice cream anymore.

  2. Keith says:

    I see this in the states. It isn’t too hard to avoid the discussion entirely if you’d like to. Some will then ask about the pop culture items you’ve absorbed lately, or if you’d gotten anything useful done.

    Hanging out or puttering around are distrusted by many Americans

  3. Tony says:

    For me, an introvert, in a lot of ways the internet might be one of the worst things that every happened.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love having access to all this info, and being able to find something out quickly, or dig as deep into something as I feel like going. But the more that time goes along, the more and more disconnected I feel from other people around me, the more I also realize that what I really need is not something allows be to be more introverted, but LESS.

    I need to interact with more and different people, face to face, in the real world. And I’m not sure how I’m going to do that, and it worries me.

  4. Greg says:

    Paul– Unfortunately I, too, can confirm that your speculation about American culture is correct. You may be on to something there…
    And Tony, as an increasingly extroverted introvert-by-nature, I can say that my taking a low-pressure sales job has helped; you are forced to talk to everyone who comes through the door and get them to like you.

  5. Andy says:

    As an introvert myself I can agree with Tony. Internet gives us a possibility to avoid face contact with real people more and more and quite often I found myself in the urge to communicate more with a real people, may be it’s because the real pure is quite rare in the real world, nothing is for 100%, so all of us are introverts and extraverts for some part, and my extravert part needs the implementation too.
    So, like Buddha said, truth is in the middle.

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