The Internet's Love Affair With Introverts

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Aug. 26 2013 2:18 PM

The Internet's Love Affair With Introverts

introvert
Big-picture thinker. Likes the window seat.

Photo by Dragon Images/Shutterstock

Introverts, rejoice! The Internet thinks your glorious idiosyncrasies and private vexations are adorable and that you are worthy of complex care and feeding. Yes, it's great to be an introvert in 2013! So how do you know if you are one?

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

Huffington Post’s popular diagnostic, "23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert," says you may claim membership in this elite club if “idle chatter” fails to thrill you, if networking “feels disingenuous” (you “crave authenticity in [your] interactions”), if you “have a penchant for philosophical conversations and a love of thought-provoking books and movies,” if you’re “geared toward intense study and developing expertise,” if you “have a keen eye for detail,” and if your habit of “thinking before [you] speak” gives you a “wise” reputation. There’s more: You might also be an introvert if you “look at the big picture” and if you prefer the window or aisle seat on buses.

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I always thought I was an introvert because occasional bouts of solitude recharge me and lots of excited conversation with new people eventually turns me limp. But given the above lofty criteria, maybe I'm actually an extrovert? Luckily, Gawker’s Caity Weaver has come out with a list of “15 Unmistakable, Outrageously Secret Signs You Are an Extrovert.” They include:

You interact with other humans in orthodox ways and sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s not and mostly it’s whatever.
When you want to stay in, you just do it without making a big, aggrieved production about how it is absolutely essential for you to stay in sometimes—you need to do it, you just have to recharge—because you have extreme intermittent photosensitivity...OF THE SOUL.
You speak at a volume perceivable by humans.

So maybe I am, secretly, an extrovert. Or an ambivert, which is a mix of the two personality types. This makes me a little sad, since the cachet of the introvert seems to have skyrocketed recently: A great piece by Sandip Roy, “The Introvert Strikes Back,” posits that “the tables are turning … The Introverts Rights Revolution … might well be upon us.” Books like Quiet: The Power of the Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and articles like “Why Introverts Can Make Excellent Executives” imply that introversion is marketable. And, anecdotally, sighing over your “old lady ways” and “social awkwardness” has become a bit of a humblebrag—as if you can’t wait to get the check, go home, and work on your novel while your silly friends fritter away their youth at some gross bar.

So why the cultural apotheosis of the lone wolf? Why has she captured both our admiration (with her supposed profundity) and our sympathy (with her supposed fear of social gatherings)? Why does she get to climb the Parnassus of nerd-cool, one commendatory listicle at a time, while friendly, tail-waggy extroverts are left in the dust?

It’s the Internet’s fault, writes Amy Grey in the Sydney Morning Herald. The online balance of power between introverts and extroverts is totally skewed. Grey says that “the Internet has become an introvert’s playground,” allowing them to “perform to a captive and sympathetic audience.” Online, they control the terms of their social engagement. They can unplug at any time. And yet they still enjoy the benefits of communicating with others, of feeling heard and valued. (This makes the Web a great place for shy extroverts, too. They can interact from a distance, take time to compose their thoughts, and present a safe, curated image to the world.) Drawn by these advantages, introverts and shy extroverts flock online, where they produce lots of introvert/shy extrovert clickbait (see here, here, and here). And then the poor, conforming regular extroverts, who just want to get along with the group, adopt the new norms, the ones lionizing introspection and alone time, and soon enough our nation's bars and restaurants will be empty, with everyone busy at home being "introverted."

Of course, the scientific definition of introversion is different from the Internet's definition. The introvert label doesn’t mean you are scared of others—that’s shyness—or that you contain mental and emotional depths incomprehensible to the trifling masses. It merely describes a person who prefers interacting in smaller social groups and occasionally wishes to be left alone. How trendy.