Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Posts Tagged ‘introverts’

Being alone in the crowd

Posted by shannonclark on August 27, 2008

This evening I had the pleasure of reading an article in the New Yorker about Garrett Lisi whom I’ve met (and whom friends of mine are friends of, I’d say I’m just someone he’s met though I suspect we are kindred spirits of a sort) He spoke at this year’s TED conference (which many friends of mine attended) and then also spoke at and joined us at the BIL conference which I helped to organize.

It still makes me feel a bit surprised to read about people Ive met in the pages on the New Yorker, but that’s not the point of this post, rather it is a two-fold example from the article which illustrates how Introversion is misunderstood. As I’ve noted before, I’m neither an Introvert nor an Extrovert but rather fall towards the middle of the spectrum, but I have a great deal of sympathy for the problems faced by Introverts in our society.

In the article the reporter notes that Garrett is an INTP on the Myers-Briggs personality profile, a classification which he feels fits him well. The I in that profile stands for Introvert.

But it was the following quote later in the article which I think shows the common misunderstanding of what Introverts are like.

It is hard to meet Lisi without wondering why someone with so many social gifts, someone who so palpably enjoys the company of others, would choose to isolate himself so thoroughly.

Uhmm I think we have a misunderstanding here.

It is not, as people might commonly assume, that someone who is introverted does not have social skills or even gifts, but rather that they are someone who draws energy from being alone, from inward thoughts. Introverts can indeed do well in social environments, but unlike an extrovert after a whie they likely would be drained in the process, rather than gaining energy from the company other others they likely find it tiring. Not impossible, just not always easy.

This is just a small example of a more common problem – popular culture here in the US at least – celebrates the extroverts and extroverted activities. The model of life is to be gregarious, social, to spend time amongst large numbers of people. It is typically assumed that most people will find it easy to enjoy themselves in environments such as bars.

On a more personal level pop culture would have us believe that dating is at least reasonably easy, that somehow being single for even just a few weeks is a shockingly long and strange occurance. And further that at least the young will have had many sexual partners and relationships starting at a relatively young age and continueing into adulthood.

But that is, alas, probably more the case for extroverts than introverts. But pop culture does not usually celebrate the introvert, the rare story about a “hermit physicist” aside.

To put this in very personal terms though I have had a few first dates and fewer second dates, I have not been in a relationship since early 2006. In very stark terms that means I have often gone months at a time with little to no physical contact of any form with another human – interupted by the rare handshake or hug of greeting or on departure. And as I noted I’m neither an introvert nor an extrovert so this prolonged isolation, even while sitting admidst a crowd as I am as I write this in a busy San Francisco cafe, has not be fun and it has been energy sapping.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, personal | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

How we are social (or not)

Posted by shannonclark on August 17, 2008

Lost in the flurry of passion for “Social Networks” and more broadly in our cultures can be the fact that people interact with each other very differently. We have many different ways of being social (or not).

Most broadly psychologists divide people into introverts and extroverts or more accurately into falling somewhere along the continuum between the two traits. However culturally here in the US there is a massive bias towards extroverism – being the “life of the party”, being socially active, partying on the weekends (and while in college) and in short getting outside of your home, hanging out with groups of people and being able to make new friends. That behavior is reinforced and rewarded significantly.

Even online, where you might think introverts would be more comfortable a lot of social networks focus on extroverted behaviors and rewards. Call this the “friend gap” as many have recently – but nearly all social networks and socially enabled software show a massive change when you have a lot of frieds versus when you have few or no friends on the system. Being very social, therefore, is rewarded with lots of built-in rewards.

When you post something and have a lot of followers – whether on your own blog, to a microbloging tool like Twitter, or as an update inside of a social network like Facebook, if you have a lot of friends you have a much higher chance of getting a response and thus feedback – and with more feedback you generally get more feedback (i.e. people start to Digg it, other people who follow your friends notice their activity on your posts etc).

If you are extroverted and crave social attention then these tools can be quite wonderful – leveraging yourself to potentially larger social circles than you could keep up with without the tools (Robert Scoble for example probably couldn’t talk to 20,000 people every day but can follow that many on twitter).

Introverts, however, gain energy from focusing inward, they can engage outward but it can be overwheling and energy draining. The effort to gather up enough social contacts on a given service to get over the “friend gap” can be insurmountable. And since every outward effort can be somewhat draining keeping up the volume of activity in the face of the frequent lack of any response can be even more draining though for some the personal rewards (from writing a blog post and getting your own thoughts down) may be sufficient.

And then there are people like myself. I fall fairly squarely in the middle of the continuum – nothing is well suited for people like me – and we confound the expectations of society and others. In some contexts I am very extroverted – I talk to everyone, am the center of attention and gain energy from the presense of others. But this is not in all cases – and I also gain energy from time by myself, afternoons such as today when I spent most of the day on a 6+ mile walk by myself through San Francisco, listening to my iPod and thinking inwardly.

Society – and the current batches of “social” networks – are at times difficult places for people like me. I may have 100’s of twitter followers, thousands of contacts and hundreds of connections on many social networks. But at the same time how I enage with both people in person and within the context of these services is at times variable (contextual) and is not how extroverts approach the world – nor is it entirely how introverts do either.

I’ll follow up this post with further thoughts and discussion but I’m hoping it may spark others to think about this.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, internet, networks, personal, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »