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’.