All entries for Wednesday 07 October 2009

October 07, 2009

Introverts, Unite!

Our wireless Internet connection still hasn't been set up in our house, and won't be ready before the 12th October. So I'm forced to write my blog posts from the library, using either my own laptop (and let it run on batteries) or one of the university terminals (which I am doing now). At the moment, the library is rather busy so I have people sitting all around me, including a very talkative group at the table right behind me. They are probably very nice people, and it's a non-quiet zone where people are allowed and encouraged to chat, but their incessant talking, as well as the other discussions going on in here, is slightly unnerving. I'm one of those people who find it very hard to concentrate when other things are going on around me, moving around and making sounds, and who would much rather work alone, in silence. This leads nicely into what I want to talk about this time, because these characteristics are typical of a certain group of individuals. Introverts.

Now, let's first agree on the vocabulary here. By introvert, I do not mean some eremit who spends his days in a dark room coding computer programs or planning world domination. Likewise, by extrovert, I do not mean someone who spends all of his/her time partying and socialising. With these two words, rather, I mean to split the population into two categories, so that any person can be said to be either one or the other, depending on how their brain works. An introvert, then, is essentially someone whose energy gets drained during social gatherings and large groups of people, and who needs some time on their own to recuperate. An extrovert, then, is the opposite: someone who feels a need to be with other people in order to relax and "re-energise". Usually, introverts tend to be distracted by background noise while extroverts feel more comfortable working with some kind of external stimulus -- like music -- although this is more an indicator than an actual identifier I suspect.

Some people will argue that some (if not all) people have an introverted side as well as an extroverted side, and thus cannot be classified as either. I don't believe that. There may be introverts who have been taught to act like extroverts or who force themselves to do so, and extroverts who are naturally shy (shyness and introversion being two seperate things), but the difference between the two above definitions is so fundamental that one cannot, in my opinion, be simultaneously one and the other. If you met me in real life, you would -- hopefully -- see a completely smiling, open, affable and completely normal person, but that does not change the fact that I am, by nature, an introvert.

My question is: Why should I have to hide this? Why is introversion generally perceived as a bad thing? Everywhere, especially in the job market, there seems to be a focus on skills such as team work, communication and multitasking, skills that are typical to extroverts. If you don't value these, you may well be seen as a bad element in a work group, regardless of your actual efficiency. On Friday nights, I am expected to be in town or at a friend's house or patying or socialising in one way or another (anywhere but home), but I don't take much pleasure in this so I why should I? I don't mind spending time with friends, but why does it have to be socially unacceptable to decline an invitation if I've had a long week and need to spendsome time on my own more than anything else? I'm not trying to be rude, offensive or antisocial, I just regularly require a few hours on my own, time to gather my thoughts, daydream, and be myself, before I'm ready for another dosis of social interactions. In short, all I have is another notion of what it means to "chill", so how come this natural orientation known as introversion, has acquired so many negative connotations like antisocial behaviour, shyness, misanthropy and lack of self-confidence?

The answer to these question has to do with the fact that the vast majority of people are extroverts (75-90% from what I've read), and so extrovert behaviour has become the norm. This leads to introversion being misunderstood and misinterpreted as a personality defect or a sign of hostility. In the same way that I cannot grasp how anyone can get "energised" by a massive party, extroverts fail to understand that we simply enjoy solitude more than social events. Also, it is again this majority that has lead the extrovert skills mentioned earlier (team work, multitasking etc.) to become more wanted qualities in a employee. But while it is true that an introvert may lack the qualities needed to work efficiently in a group, he or she will have other advantages which unfortunately seem to be neglected a lot of working environments. The ability to concentrate and work for a long time on a single task, for example, is common to most introverts, and ought to get more credit in any environment, be it school, university or work. And since when is it a bad thing to be able to complete something on your own?

I did a little research on the Net before writing this, to see if anyone else had been thinking about the same thing. And sure enough, I found an nice article titled "The Tyranny of the Extroverts", which discusses the topic of these "essential" skills further.
Even more ineresting was another article by a certain Jonathan Rauch, who started a whole Introversion vs. Extroversion debate with his innocent piece of writing. If you can't be bothered to read this blog post, then what I'll ask of you is, please, READ THIS. This is good stuff.
Finally, there's a lovely blog held by some Lee Ann Lambert, called Living Introverted. It covers a lot of questions extroverts might have about introverts.

For those at Warwick University: I'm trying to start up a new society, that would go by the name Warwick Introverts. Its aim is essentially to unite introverts and possibly do something about the bad reputation that introversion has received. However, I need 30 signatures, so if you would consider joining such a Society, please contact me and help me get this ball rolling. Also, introvert and extrovert, Warwick student or not, feel free to leave a comment. I'd love to hear about your agreements or disagreements. Thank you. 

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