Thursday, December 6, 2012

Can we all be introverts?

So I see that the Goodreads winner in non-fiction is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. I haven't read it, but it's now on my "want to read" list (meaning I'm now using Goodreads, so if you want to add me, feel free). Two things about this, however, make me wonder if introversion has become a "thing": the fact that among the examples mentioned in the book's blurb are a "high octane public speaker" and a "record-breaking salesman," and the fact that this is the non-fiction winner of the 2012 Goodreads Choice Awards.

Far be it from me to tell anyone that they can't be an introvert-- I have a general reluctance to tell someone that they're not what they say they are, up to the point of refusing to tell a fish that he's not a monkey if he's willing to wear the ears and tail. And, obviously, I haven't yet read this book so I don't know the stories of the people mentioned in this blurb. But to me, being an introvert doesn't mean you need to "recharge in solitude" after giving your talks, high octane or otherwise-- it means not being able to give them in the first place. Needing to recharge in solitude after (or before) a normal day at work. Putting off interactions that involve talking on the phone or meeting with strangers. That kind of thing. Maybe that's just a more extreme kind of introversion, and time to yourself after a public performance really is a weird thing that most people, most non-introverts, don't need.

Is it surprising that a book on introverts would be among the most popular on Goodreads? Not at all. A lot of extroverts, after all, simply don't read. They're too busy socializing to focus on more than a text or a Facebook update. A book is the perfect thing to be about introverts, when you think about it-- a TV show about extroverts is more fitting, but really, every TV show is about extroverts. Except, okay, Hoarders.

But are all or most voracious readers, Goodreaders even, introverts? I doubt it. And I doubt that all of those who aren't nevertheless have a strong academic interest in the topic, though some of them almost certainly do. So I suspect a bit of introvert...sympathy is going on. I'm not going to call it envy, because a strong aversion to attention from others isn't an enviable thing, considering how much "Look at me"-ing is involved in life as a person (as opposed to, say, a tiger. Hunt by yourself, sleep by yourself, meet another tiger for temporary shenanigans, and then go back to being by yourself, maybe to raise some cubs which popped out of you mysteriously. By yourself). and self-checkout lanes are godsends to the introvert, but life is still full of minor performances like parties and major ones like job interviews and presentations. And introverts-- as I understand them, anyway-- are not performers.

But you know what? It's okay to not like performing. It's also okay to not like performing sometimes, or not like it very much, when you're just not in the mood. It's okay to hate small talk, find fellow patrons at the cinema who yell at the screen annoying rather than endearing, and not understand why people on reality shows tend to go WOOOO so much. That probably doesn't make you an introvert, but it doesn't matter. The introverts' table is, I think, by definition not the cool kids' table. Come sit there with me and have a beer.  We can have a good chat. Quietly.


  1. I think there is a misconception that introversion is synonymous with shyness, which isn't always the case. Introversion and extraversion are concepts that are pretty decently accepted in the psychological community, although not really understood. In more pop-psychology circles, shyness and introversion (and also gregariousness and extraversion) tend to get conflated.

    I remember reading a study that showed that introverts had a higher level of brain activity with less stimulus when compared with extraverts. I do believe that there is a neurological difference between the two.

    I think that social factors can be an indicator of one or the other, but they are not sufficient. I would also hesitate to call someone with a knack for "high octane public speaking" and introvert, but I would not exclude the possibility. Likewise, a non-social extravert is also very possible.

    The difference would be where one would instinctively choose to go for information. Introverts can engage more deeply with internal information. They tend to get little pieces of the outer world and hoard them inside picking through every little piece until there is nothing left, because leaving their home is exhausting. This is tends to be undervalued by society, so I think the internet errs on being too introvert friendly (or extravert unfriendly). Contrast with extraversion in which one would feel stifled or underwhelmed without going out and seeking more information. Depth or breadth. (Extraversion should not be stigmatized with the loaded word "shallow" as it is not correct and this only describes an inclination rather than an ability)

  2. Excellent comment, ooki, thank you. I really like the "depth or breadth" characterization.

  3. I think the author of the book would say that you're conflating introversion with social anxiety. Of course it depends on how you're defining your terms, but if you read the book I think you'll see that the way she defines introversion isn't mutually exclusive with enjoyment (or simple tolerance) of performance, social situations, or interacting with strangers.

    Speaking personally, I actually found it really powerful to be able to tease apart my social anxiety from my introversion and not let one define the other. Working on my social anxiety didn't mean trying to dismantle my introversion. The introversion is perfectly healthy, while the anxiety actually is an obstacle in my life.


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