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February 22, 2003

Our hour at last: Jonathan Rauch has decided to profile me in the Atlantic Monthly. Okay, not just me. But:
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious,” or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out? […]

Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues. Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts.

My personal liberation movement is here at last. Up against the wall, extroverts. (Via soul brother Gene Healy.)

Cross-reference: Warhoon 28, page 564. [09:37 PM]

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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Our hour at last::

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2003, 08:21 AM:

For some reason, the vocabulary of extrovert/introvert always seems to me to carry with it implications that I don't like. What Rauch describes there though is a term I've always found intensely descriptive for myself: "gregarious loner". It is nice to see someone nailing it so well.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2003, 05:37 PM:

Rauch addresses the erroneous perception that introverts dislike other people, or are shy. Neither is true of me, and it is not true of many people. Anyone who met me knows that I'm not shy, I'll just get right in your face and say hello. I think other people are great, I'm pleased as punch to live on a planet with five billion of them. I love going to computer trade shows, the occasional science fiction convention. And I love parties -- or, at least, I had a great time at the last party I went to a couple of years ago. I love holidays with a houseful of guests, although it always seems to work out to be SOMEONE ELSE'S HOUSE that's full.

And yet I find being with other people is tiring, while being alone is energizing.

Another element of Rauch's article that has the ring of truth to me: being with other people is acting. That's not literally true, but it's a good metaphor. For a gregarious extrovert like me to socialize with other people is something similar to what an actor does when he dons another persona and gets up onstage. It's not entirely the same thing, because to say that a person is acting is to say that person is dissembling, behaving in a false manner, and I am not doing those things when I am with other people. (Or no moreso than anyone dissembles or behaves falsely when around others. No, your pants don't make you look fat. No, I don't think anyone noticed your fly was open.) The person I am when I am with other people is me -- but the person I am when I am alone is more me.

The person I am when I am alone with my wife is also more me -- I'd say it's as much me as the person I am when I'm alone -- but it's a DIFFERENT VERSION of me. Even Julie is never going to see the person I am when I'm alone, because that person ceases to exist when I enter a room with another person, or another person enters the same room as me, or even when the phone rings. It's like trying to view an individual quark, which the nuclear physicists tell us is both theoretically and practically impossible.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2003, 07:07 PM:

I don't know about the introvert/extrovert dichotomy, but the person he's describing is definitely you!

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2003, 07:13 PM:

Kathryn: That's funny. I thought it was me.

Mitch: It's not that introverts don't like other people; it's just that paying attention, and going along with the small talk that is supposed to define one as liking other people, is a strain.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2003, 07:21 PM:

Damn—for a moment I thought you meant the Atlantic was doing a piece about you and TOR books. That would have been awesome, and well deserved.

I take it if this profile is spot on about you, then it must have been torture for you to learn how to sit up on the those platforms and deal with panels at conventions, etc way back when?


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2003, 07:59 PM:

Not even remotely, John. Indeed, I'm an very confident public speaker, and always have been.

Kevin Drum of CalPundit blogs the same Atlantic piece, and makes the same point: he's just like that, and he's perfectly comfortable with public speaking.

Among other things, being on a panel, or giving a talk, or addressing a room full of sales reps is a structured interaction. Giving speeches or participating in public debates is easy. Small talk is hard.

What we're talking about has very little to do with conventional notions of "shyness" as a kind of fearful reluctance.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2003, 08:14 PM:

Like Patrick, I love public speaking. It's an incredible rush. I did a radio program on blogging over the summer -- the other bloggers who were guests talked about their blogs about being incredibly nervous. One of them was so nervous he threw up. To me, this was totally alien thought. I've read many times that public speaking is the biggest fear of most Americans, often topping even the fear of death. To this I say: huh? Fear of public speakign is as alien to me as the character on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" who is morbidly afraid of bunny rabbits. I was excited and walking on air in the days leading up to and after the radio show.

I was somewhat nervous when I chaired a presentation at a conference for high-level IT managers at the CIO and corporate senior VP level. This had more to do with my being afraid that I wasn't prepared rather than fear of public speaking per se.

Arthur D. Hlavaty:
>>Mitch: It's not that introverts don't like other people; it's just that paying attention, and going along with the small talk that is supposed to define one as liking other people, is a strain.

Two points of disagreement here:

First of all, I think the word "strain" is wrong. I would simply describe it as "effort."

And I'm somewhat baffled by the expression "small talk," carrying with it the inference that the conversation is trivial or unimportant. When I ask you how you are, and how is your family, and how is your work going and are you enjoying it, I am genuinely interested in the answers to those questions, not just lobbing a conversational tennis ball back and forth in lieu of real conversation.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2003, 09:41 PM:

Haven't read it, but from all the comments it sure sounds like me too. I have, however, always thought of myself as shy with people, mostly fearful of rejection. I too, love being on a stage talking and/or performing because in a sense, I'm in control. It isn't *personal* either. It's my husband too. He's one of the best public speakers I know and yet at parties he's the one in the corner reading a book. I'll only socialize comfortably with people I know well and/or have known for a long time. I always feel like I don't really belong.

At some point in almost every science fiction convention I attend I look around me and think, "None of these people like me; I don't like them. What am I *doing* here?" This is a signal that I've had too much people and it's time to go to my room and be quiet and alone.

I've never liked the extrovert/introvert thing because the people writing/talking on the topic always seem somehow to give the impression that extrovert is good and introvert is bad. Personally, I think the world could use more introverts.

MKK

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2003, 10:12 PM:

Okay, now I've read it, and oh *yes*! Except that I don't, really, very much like people. ("I love mankind. It's people I can't stand." -- that great moral philospher Linus Van Pelt) I mean, sure, I like you and you and, oh definitely you, but, well, I do own a tshirt that says, "Do I look like a fucking people person?"

MKK

Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2003, 11:48 PM:

Another element of Rauch's article that has the ring of truth to me: being with other people is acting. That's not literally true, but it's a good metaphor. For a gregarious extrovert like me to socialize with other people is something similar to what an actor does when he dons another persona and gets up onstage. It's not entirely the same thing, because to say that a person is acting is to say that person is dissembling, behaving in a false manner, and I am not doing those things when I am with other people.

For me, it's a sensation not unlike having the volume knob on my personality turned up several notches higher than its normal setting -- dialling it all the way up to 9 or 10 instead of a comfortable 4.5 or so. It's not painful, and I don't dislike doing it, but maintaining at that level for more than an hour or so at a time is exhausting.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 01:50 AM:

Good article. Alas, the people who really need to read it probably won't ever see it.

Being an introvert made a previous job -- computer sales trainer -- sheer torture. It wasn't making the presentations that was bad. It was my colleagues; sales people and sales-oriented executives. I was a computer geek, interested in the ideas. They were glad-handing, chain-smoking, bar crawling guys. Their goal was to Move Containers (as in shipping, of Product). They treated me as a sort of neurotic mascot who had some indispensible skills.

I eventually escaped to grad school and Silicon Valley. The computer industry proper is chock full of introverts . . . and the extroverts there are good at interspecies communication.

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 04:25 AM:

Another "me too". I went to Potlatch this weekend, I was in the "Ballad of Lost C'mell" play, I talked to people about all kinds of things. I had a great time. I didn't suffer from stage fright, I never have.

Friday and Saturday nights I got home and I was exhausted. (I missed out on most of Sunday as a result.)

Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 07:24 AM:

Me too. Socializing is like work for me, except with a rather small group of friends.

I often like going out to a cafe or coffee house to read or whatever, but I don't like it when I get to know too many people there, and I have to be social, when I'd rather be reading. At such times, I think it was nicer when I was anonymous.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 09:34 AM:

This is a good piece, although one passage of Rauch made me think twice (and I offer this merely for discussion, not to rile anyone up):

Extroverts therefore dominate public life. This is a pity. If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place.

I can agree with that, and at the same time worry about the means such introverts would use to make the world calmer and more peaceful...(I'm basing this on my memory of reading John Toland's bio, but it occurrs to me...wasn't Hitler an introvert?)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 10:17 AM:

I read Rauch as having his tongue at least partway into his cheek in that regard.

Also, introverts have better luck at poker and are far more handsome.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 10:24 AM:

I agree with that completely. (This introvert is also happy to have a full head of hair past age 40....)

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 12:26 PM:

"Also, introverts have better luck at poker ..."

Say what?

I'm an introvert who is successful at poker, and some of my best friends are introverted successful poker players. But I have to say that I just don't see a correlation between success at poker and ranking on the introvert-extrovert scale. For every Mason Malmuth (a well-known Las Vegas pro and about whom the "interrupting Patrick" joke could have been invented) there is an Amarillo Slim Preston (who can and generally does talk up a storm while playing).

Extroverts can do well in this very people-oriented game, because, as with public speaking, the interactions are structured.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 01:16 PM:

Alan: "Joke, Moshe."

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 02:43 PM:

I find myself somewhere in between "introvert" and "extrovert" in the article's terms. I do sometimes find it exhausting to have to make small talk with large groups of people, but on the other hand, I also inherited a small part of my father's gift for striking up a conversation with absolutely anybody about any topic.

And, as Kate can testify, when confronted with a group of silent introverts, my natural reaction is to babble more or less constantly, in hopes of getting some sort of response. I probably drive you all batshit, for which I apologize.

I can also sort of see both sides of the fear of public speaking thing. The first time I had to give a conference talk, a couple of people commented on the fact that I kept walking around while I was talking-- I was doing that, because I was afraid that my knees would buckle if I tried to stand still...

I don't get quite that nervous any more, but the first day of class always feels like stepping out on a tightrope wearing steel-toed boot. But it's a real kick when a talk or a class goes well, and I've grown to really enjoy public speaking in those settings.

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 02:55 PM:

I don't know about Hitler being an introvert, but I've heard the theory that Nixon was one, and having his need for political power force him to drain his energies and violate his nature with political gladhanding was one of the factors that made him the Nixon we all grew to know and love.

natasha ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 03:05 PM:

No, no, that article is clearly talking about me ;) Though when I was younger I was morbidly afraid of speaking in front of people, but I blame that on church. Also, as Chad said...

"And, as Kate can testify, when confronted with a group of silent introverts, my natural reaction is to babble more or less constantly, in hopes of getting some sort of response. I probably drive you all batshit, for which I apologize."

This habit in me developed when I went to work in a Silicon Valley company and started going to lunch with the other software people. It was eerie to sit at a table with a bunch of people who mostly, like me, had no pressing desire to talk very much. A great icebreaking joke in those situations is as follows:

'How can you tell if an engineer is an introvert or an extrovert? ...

'An extroverted engineer looks at *your* shoes during a conversation.'

Which also brings up the whole eye contact issue. When more than one person is in the room, unless I know some or most of the parties very well, eye contact is almost intolerable while speaking.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 03:26 PM:

By the way, I know two sf writers who seem to be genuine extroverts, Joe Haldeman and Tad Williams, and I am rather amazed that they manage to lead these Jekyll-and-Hyde lives consisting of houses full of guests, regular parties, friends and family and business associates calling on the phone every five minutes -- along with long hours every day spent alone in a room, writing.

I'm told that Neil Gaiman is the same way.

I guess my amazement comes from overthinking the matter, thinking that people have to be either introverts OR extroverts. Tad and Joe seem to be extreme extroverts and extreme introverts at different times in the same day, every day.

I was talking to a friend the other day, he's got a business trip coming up and he will be staying with a mutual friend in New York while he is there. "Couldn't get the company to spring for a hotel room, eh?" I said, and he said, no, he prefers to stay with a friend. Again, my reaction was amazement: if I'm traveling on business to a city where I have friends, I'm happy to see them, I'll even extend my trip a day or two to spend more time with them -- but I'm grateful to have my own little space to retreat to each night, my hotel room, and I'm grateful to be in a line of work where that's one of the perqs.

We had an extra room put on the house in 2001 (dotcom money *sigh*) and my wife and I had a disagreement on whether the room should have a door on it. I said: yes, door, she said no, no door. The room is a sunroom that does double-duty as a guest room -- daybed has a trundle, pulls out into two comfortable beds -- and I know that when I'm a guest in someone else's home I would much rather be in a room with a door that closes.

I stayed as a guest in a friend's home the summer before last, on a sofabed in their finished basement. My friends did up a corner of that finished basement as an exercise room for the husband. I woke up to this odd SWISHING sound -- couldn't figure it out -- sat up and peered over to see the man sitting on an exercise bicycle, pedalling away. That was weird for me and a little bit uncomfortable -- I like to be alone until I've at least had a chance to wash up.

A year or two before that, same friends, same sofabed, it was a big weekend-long high school reunion party my friends were having. I got the sofabed, and three 11-year-old boys were sacked out in sleeping bags on the floor. I tiptoed downstairs quietly in the wee hours of the morning to avoid waking them, and then was awakened myself a few hours later by my roommates having a brisk intellectual disagreement about something called "Pokemon" that I had never heard of before.

Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 08:05 PM:

(Sorry about a quasi-double post, since I first read and responded to David Moles' link to this before heading over here>)


When I was first introduced to Meyers-Briggs typologies back in high school, I was able to identify the essence of the Introvert/Extrovert dichotomy (since so many people have periods of both): when under stress, Extroverts need to be around people to recharge, and Introverts need to be alone. It's the recharging of energy that seems to be the deciding factor.

So, for an introvert, when Life is going well, sometimes interacting with others is easy and sometimes it takes effort, but when there is a lot going on, it truly can be a strain.

Me, I am a flaming Extrovert, and that capital "E" really says it all. And "we" really do seem to take over social situations. Introverts prefer to think about what they want to say before they say it, so by the time they've figured out what they want to say, the Extroverts have been on a kind of verbal journey towards whatever they want to say, a journey that they're sharing out loud with the rest of the world. It's taken me a lot of practice to learn how to shut up and wait to see if anyone else is interested in saying anything, rather than assuming that just because they're not babbling at my speed that they have nothing they want to say. (Blanket apologies to all those I have inadvertantly run over in the process.)

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 10:03 PM:

I'm a total flatline on the Meyers-Briggs introvert/extrovert, because to me the question of recharging has nothing to do with whether there are other people around, presuming that I like the other people reasonably well. Some activities by myself help me recharge. Some with other people do. Some in each category are thoroughly draining for me, and sometimes it's directly because of the presence of other people, sometimes not. It just doesn't really pertain.

The staying-with-folks vs. hotel-room thing may not be a matter of I vs. E, though. My grandfather is the most classic introvert I know, but he would never dream of having friends or relations stay in a hotel -- he would be morally offended by the concept, even though it's probably much less comfortable for him to have people stay. He's internalized the extroversion codified in social manners in his region and social class, I suppose.

Before I met my husband, I didn't really believe that people with siblings could understand alone time, because there was always *someone there*. (As an only child, I am horrified by the phrase "always someone there.") Then I spent the weekend with his family and sat in the living room with both parents, my then-boyfriend, two of his grandparents, and three of his siblings. Except for the sound of turning pages, total silence. If you laughed at your book, no one would comment. They have perfected isolation in a crowd, and it's a beautiful thing, I think.

natasha ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 10:51 PM:

Rachel - "It's taken me a lot of practice to learn how to shut up and wait to see if anyone else is interested in saying anything, rather than assuming that just because they're not babbling at my speed that they have nothing they want to say. (Blanket apologies to all those I have inadvertantly run over in the process.)"

Hey, on behalf of my own tiny percentage of the introvert population, thanks for eventually noticing. Just make sure to spread the word.

Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 11:40 PM:

I grew up with, on the one hand, my father's family, who were all quite capable of sitting in a room, everyone reading their own book, in perfect harmony. And on the other hand, my mother's family, who considered a book an excellent way to while away the moments when there's no one else there.

It drove my mother crazy that my father and I would bring books to the table.

I like people. I do fine in one-on-one conversations. For years, I froze up when I had to address small groups of people, all of whom I knew slightly, and I thought this meant I couldn't cope with "public speaking". Then I started having opportunities to adress somewhat larger groups where I knew very few people. *Very* different experience!

Occasionally, in my less charitable moments, I toy with the idea of extrovert-as-vampire. After all, if they're energized by interactions with lots of people, instead of being somewhat drained by them (like normal people, i.e., like me:)), they're _taking_ that energy from those other people, right? (Yes, I am aware of the huge, gaping holes in this theory.)

Jonathan Rauch may be describing a minority of the general population, but I think it's a large percentage of fandom.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 11:54 PM:

Extrovert as vampire: this has lots of juice.

Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 12:14 AM:

:P

jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 02:18 PM:

My own lightbulb moment on the introvert/extrovert thing came while I was reading up on Jung's theory of types. He said what several people here have said -- that introverts get their emotional energy from being alone, while extroverts get it from spending time with other people. He also said it was a spectrum, rather than a dichotomy.

When I read the description, a number of characteristics of more introverted friends made a great deal of sense. It still takes some remembering to recall that their tolerances for groups can be a great deal lower than my own, or that even one other person constitutes a drain on energy. It also sometimes takes some remembering to know that my friends aren't upset with *me* personally.

I'm a pretty classic extrovert -- I look forward to gatherings of friends, I feel *great* after an evening of dancing, reading Shakespeare, or good conversation -- and I still find myself needing quiet time, alone, to do "self stuff". Thing is, after a certain amount of self stuff, I'll get tired of my own thoughts, and want to hear someone else's. Also, even though I know I'm good at "small talk" (well, the sort of talk one makes with someone one doesn't know well enough to discuss one's personal life with), I'm generally unhappy in large crowds of strangers, or as the newcomer in a group. And I'm dreadful at formal public speaking.

Lis Carey says
"Occasionally, in my less charitable moments, I toy with the idea of extrovert-as-vampire. After all, if they're energized by interactions with lots of people, instead of being somewhat drained by them (like normal people, i.e., like me:)), they're _taking_ that energy from those other people, right? (Yes, I am aware of the huge, gaping holes in this theory.)"

Mostly we're loaning it to each other, or sharing it around. Also, I, for one, am not energized by *all* interactions with other people.

Damien Warman ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2003, 10:07 PM:

Turning to the nearest of the two (ah hah hah... two! two copies!) copies of Wrhn28, I learn that once again the world follows where Willis led; also, that maybe I'm introverted. Which I would otherwise not have suspected.

(If one wishes to read the full column (from wrhn) and not just the page that pnh directs one to, turn to p. 560. I would also be willing to mail a photocopy to any curious but sadly wrhnless person.)

Nancy R. Fenn ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 05:49 PM:

My whole life turned around when I realized how drained I am by people. Someone suggested I take the Myers Briggs test many years ago and I realized I was an introvert trying to be an extrovert and it was taking a toll. (infp) I love people and usually have them gathered around me, but my mental, emotional and physical health improves dramatically when I spend at least half my time alone. Other than that, in this discussion it's rather hard to imagine anyone in politics or as an introvert, except Jacqueline Kennedy, the quintessential introvert! That includes world conquerors as well. Not our thang. Think of Heinrich Heime's poetic statement, "Oh ye men of action. If only you knew you were but the tools of men of thought." Something to contemplate. If you call Jacquie's role political :-) By the way, there's nothing SHY about us ... it's not about being shy. Most introverts are very strongly individuated and no pushover. When paparazzi got too close to J. Kennedy she hit them with her purse.