The Crimson White

Introversion can be misunderstood, with harmful effects

Adam Sieracki, Contributing Writer

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These days, it seems like everybody’s talking about introverts. One example of this is Susan Cain’s much-talked-about 2012 book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” “Quiet” is something of an introvert manifesto. In it, Cain explores a wealth of psychological and cultural sources to advance the idea that modern societies are biased against introverted people.

In an interview with CBS, Cain offered an explanation of her vision, comparing her perspective to the feminist movement of the 20th century. She makes the case that society is wasting talent by failing to address the personality needs of the introverted population, who must “pass” as extraverts in order to be successful. Throughout schools, business and public life, this view proposes a constructed landscape of difficulty for people with introverted personalities.

Cain’s book was highly-acclaimed by critics and enjoyed remarkable bestseller status. The American people, it seems, were ready to receive this idea of a personality bias in our society. Concurrent with these new psychological findings, however, was a tremendous revolution of internet and social media use in our society.

It’s difficult to understate or even fully examine the impact of the internet on modern society. Scrolling along social media, one can witness an eternity of strange and interesting manifestations of this new form of mass communication. However, a particularly interesting phenomenon of the digital age has taken place among self-described introverts. Recently, there has been something of a social movement among introverts online. Social media means ordinarily-inward people now have access to communicate with an audience of millions, and in these complex communication channels, digital experience is a venue for new, powerful sources of identity and socialization.

Over the years, large communities have developed on sites like Reddit and Tumblr devoted to the introvert identity as it is understood. A quick Google image search of the term “introvert” will yield a wide cast of art, memes and social commentary championing the lifestyle of the so-called introvert.

The predominating view of introversion on social media, however, is distinct from the critical analysis found in “Quiet.” Instead, the format of social media, as it often does, presents a new, polarizing vision. Here, self-described introverts seem to be advocating for themselves as a protected class of society.

Endowed with immutable character traits, these introverts have devised rules of behavior for extraverts to follow when in their company. And, indeed, much of the information shared seems to range from impoliteness to indications of severe social anxiety. With the liberating messages now possible in technology, internet “introverts” seem to have incubated a new popular ideology – one with questionable basis in genuine psychology.

For much of my time growing up, I was quick to call myself an introvert. I’m not quite so sure about that anymore. Like many other people in my generation, I found myself with a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to have an introverted personality. The core of this problem with introversion, I believe, lies inside a particular misunderstanding made by these communities online. I’m talking about the nature versus nurture phenomenon, a key piece in human psychology.

Ask yourself the following question: What makes you, you? The answers are numerous and complicated. However, like many questions of psychology, they all distill into two simple categories: nature and nurture. That’s right; each of us enters the world with a set of biological predispositions which then combine with environmental experiences to shape us into who we become. Our thoughts, our behaviors and our personalities are a product of this complex mingling between the two elements.

The implications of this discovery are profound. Being able to communicate well and form successful, meaningful relationships is, thankfully, not a character trait genetically divulged to a certain segment of the population. In a population of diverse selves, people have differences. However, these differences are not immutable. When we shut off the transformative possibilities of experience through crude, simplistic labeling of ourselves, we limit our own possibilities for becoming the people we might be.

Individual human beings can differ vastly from one another psychologically, and it is this diversity that enables our societies to function on so many different levels. Additionally, it is the essential process of socialization where we can be exposed to this diversity of experience.

If this is to be done, we must not place ourselves in boxes of biological determinism. To do so is to misunderstand ourselves and the incredible complexity of the world we inhabit. In these changing, complicated times, simplicity can be an enticing source of security. In the case of human behavior, however, it is a dangerous misjudgement.

 

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Introversion can be misunderstood, with harmful effects