I identify as an introvert. The common misconception with this identification is that introverts are not social creatures–I crave the same connections and conversation in which extroverts thrive, but I attack these cravings in an often off-putting and unfamiliar process. At times I feel like my nature ostracizes me from normal work life and social experiences, a feeling that cripples me when I need to be strong.
The Hipster Introvert
I grew up bull-headed, willful, angry, and introspective. Most people see these traits and think anti-social disorder, ADHD, or too much sugar. In reality, playdates exhausted me, and the prospect of leaving the house left me in tatters (my mother could regale you with tales of my first week at pre-school, during which each day began with an hour-long tantrum at drop-off). I wasn’t scared of pre-school, but I was scared of being dropped into an environment that presented the “new.” The new produces in me an anxiety so lucid that it feels like I’m on a bad acid trip (you know–giant spiders, apocalyptic depression, bleak existentialism). What do I say if someone asks me this, that, anything? If you have a conversation with me, you can bet that whatever I say has already been thoroughly rehearsed and dissected, or that what I say will be a jumbled mess of stream-of-consciousness Kerouac inscrutability.
I’ve always found comfort in writing, reading, and my own mind, and only confusion and distrust in social circles. As such, I found a magnetic current in online gaming, chatrooms, and forums, places where I controlled every word uttered and where I could take time to parse every phrase directed at me. To many, the aversion to in-person conversation comes across as rude and untrustworthy: “He’s a bit weird, isn’t he?”
But the aversion to conversation is not a reflection on the people I interact with, but rather a reflection of how my mind works. I don’t benefit at all from vocal discussions–more often than not a meeting or a group discussion will leave me drained and useless and so scatter brained that I may remember one or two items of discussion and forget the rest unless I take item-for-item notes. Whereas if I read an email, I take every carefully placed word as a nuance of the writer’s mind: “Oh, they chose to use the word weird instead of odd, that must mean that…” and can easily explain to you the author’s intent, my opinion, and a course of action to take.
In Susan Cain’s exploration of introversion, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” Cain observes that “Introverts… may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”
Hello, Ms. Cain. Are you writing my biography?
But how do these points apply to maintaining friendships? Simply put, the digital world allows an introvert to feel strongly bonded to others through media that many people consider non-personal and static. To me, every Facebook message, every like, every Instagram DM is a social move, a way to indicate interest and friendship.
I don’t need to visit people. I don’t need to go to dinner. I don’t need to go to the bars. In fact, the anxiety produced at the possibility of going on a social outing will exhaust me before I’ve even left the house. I can sit on my porch with a cigar, tapping away on my phone, and feel as close to someone as if they were sitting right next to me shooting the shit.
But that doesn’t work for many people, and as a result I may feel close friendship with someone who barely considers me an acquaintance.
The World’s Tallest Gallows
Predicament? Yes. I want, no, I need to maintain some semblance of a social life, but the way in which I go about interacting with others causes a schism. I recognize this schism. I know it’s there. But I cannot divorce my mind from the connections that I find through writing.
Text messaging is my casual conversation. Facebook conversations are my deep “learn more about me” chats. Hell, if you send me an email you might as well sign up to get matching tattoos.
Cain goes on to state that “Introversion–along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness–is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in the [extrovert’s world] are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”
This societal demand to be happy, to be talkative, to be friendly, results in a deeper self-loathing than failure at life’s goals. I’ll take a million graduate school rejection letters, or failed business decisions, or bounced checks, before I’ll evaluate my life against the social butterfly, because if I’m supposed to be the social butterfly, I might as well tie the world’s tightest noose and climb the world’s tallest gallows, because I cannot physically or mentally be that person.
Can I get a Computer like Stephen Hawking?
Wall me up in an office with a door that locks, give me a messaging system, and let me be.
But alas, my perfect world peg doesn’t fit into this bastard world’s lock.
All that I ask is that the world gives me the benefit of the doubt. I don’t like talking about myself or about personal details (except in this long-winded article that is entirely about ME), but I’ll talk your ear off about the Russian Idea, or the beauty in Hemingway’s flaws, or the Trojan Horse of modern literature (I’m a blast at parties!). I’m not being a know-it-all asshole, or disingenuous (or at least I REALLY do not intend to be either of those things–really)–I’m being what I can be in social settings: a disconnected introvert trying the best that I can to connect on some sort of level with another human being.
Maybe I wasn’t made for this world, but I promise you that I am not unique in this unfamiliarity with conversation. Modern technology isn’t causing young people to forget how to talk; it’s giving a voice to introverts who used to stay at home or connect through nebulous IRC chatrooms or meet friends through team chat on Starcraft: Brood War. I promise, we’ve been here all along. And we’re pretty rad people even if we’d rather discuss Murakami’s Buddhism than your children (I swear to god, I try to care, but I just feel weird around kids–I’m happy to discuss parenting philosophies, however).
Was that as much of a mess as I think it is? :)