Friday, October 15, 2004


I'm an introvert. Supposedly, about a third of the population could be characterized as introverts. Extroverts, i think, conflate introversion with shyness; but i believe this is incorrect. My distinction would be this: a shy person is somebody who desperately wants to be social but for some reason cannot, while an introvert is somebody who is capable of being social, but doesn't want to be. For instance, i have no problem speaking in front of crowds, or even striking up a conversation with a stranger. I'm married and i have kids, so i could make the case that i'm not a social misfit. But in general i'd rather have root canal than engage in small-talk. Large parties with unfamiliar people are what i imagine hell will be like.

Often i regard my introversion as a sort of mild disability, but there are some advantages. First is that i have no problem with being alone for long periods of time, which makes it easier to telecommute and to keep myself entertained (i know extroverts who would regard going to a movie alone as pathetic or even pathological, but i actually prefer it). Another advantage is the well-known capacity of the introverted to focus. I can completely shut out the world around me for hours at a time to concentrate on a problem. And like most introverts i have a small circle of very good friends, with whom i enjoy spending time.

The disadvantages are considerable though, primarily because our society prefers the extrovert. An introvert might be considered aloof or even rude because it's so difficult to exchange the standard pleasantries, or to engage in yet another conversation about weather, schools, kids, etc. Extroverts are perceived as better leaders, and they may well be. The classic networking opportunities are precisely the sort of thing that an introvert will avoid. Introverts often have trouble "thinking on their feet" also, because of the strong compulsion to contemplate before speaking or acting. Some researchers have even speculated that this might be an aspect of brain chemistry.

It's possible to succeed as an introvert (Warren Buffet is said to be an introvert, for example), but i hope that my kids don't inherit this trait. Being an introvert is a bit like what an extrovert might feel like in a foreign country where he or she doesn't speak the language (although oddly enough i've found that i get along well in European countries because as an introvert i don't seem as "American" to most Europeans). You can get through the day fine-- you can meet people, get from place to place, eat in restaurants, go to the theater, etc. But everything is just a bit harder than it needs to be.


Prak said...

Hi, Mike. I was disappointed to see that no one had commented on this post, as it's a nigh-on perfect description of what it's like to be an introvert. Maybe it's because the extroverts don't care and the introverts don't want to ;-)

J said...

I agree with prak - this is a very good post.

I too have no problem striking up a conversation...if i want to. It is just that, in many cases, I choose not to. Small talk is boring and often useless - if it is with a random stranger, chances are extremely high we won't remember what was said a month down the road.

However, if there is chance that either of us may learn something important or that the situation we are in may be improved in some way (even if it is small) by speaking up, I have no problem testing the waters by saying something.

It is a conscience choice to not speak and in my mind at least, it in some ways shows respect to others to let them continue to enjoy their privacy. It is also worth noting that in most crowds, even the 2/3 of the population that are extroverts choose not to talk to me.

But you're right - if I were to choose, I'd make my kids a little more extroverted (and I think they are) just because of the societal advantages that often yields.