Now, I imagine that, given my social circle, most of you reading this are introverted yourself. But, these articles have led me to believe that extroverted people "don't get" introverted people. So, let me hit you up with some facts (at least, from my point of view) that are hopefully expressed in a way you can get.
Introverted =/= Shy
Introversion means that being around people (not even interacting with them, necessarily, just being near them) drains you of energy. That makes it physically, biologically unpleasant to be in a
Shy people, on the other hand, become emotionally uncomfortable when interacting with others. They generally suffer from a lack of self-confidence, or a perceived lack of social skills. Or, possibly, they are just frightened (to one degree or another, not necessarily panicked) by other people. Don't judge. Shyness is definitely one of those afflictions, like lack of self-discipline, that is a nasty self-perpetuating system.
Note that these two things are not the same. There are plenty of introverts that are very confident and well-spoken. I myself happen to be a reasonably accomplished public speaker. There are even introverts that are able to socialize, enjoy parties, and whatnot (we call them "freaks of nature", but in a nice way). You can be capable of, and even proficient in, social interaction, and yet still feel that drain.
So why are these two traits so often linked? Well, the answer is fairly obvious, I think. When you are young, and an introvert, you tend to avoid crowds. You will often go off by yourself during recess at school. This has two effects. One, the other kids tend to think you're weird, and shun you. Two, especially in light of number one there, you don't get a lot of practice at the whole socialization thing. And, you extroverts might not realize it, but human communication is a tricky maze fraught with peril. It is very easy to say something dumb, or insulting, or just weird. The rules for distinguishing between "funny" and "strange" are, at best, unclear. Thus, people who have little practice with said rules make mistakes. Which tends to get them laughed at, or shunned, or misunderstood. Which then begins the cycle which leads to perpetual shyness.
What does this mean? Well, one big thing is that introverts are not necessarily afraid to interact with you. When we go off by ourselves, we do not need someone to come and "pull us out of our shells". We do not need a pep talk about having confidence. We are not hurt, or scared, or even necessarily having a bad time. We've just hit our limit of people time, and need to take a breather.
Introverts Don't Hate You
Well, maybe they hate you. I don't know. But, the point is that they don't hate extroverts in general. Reading those articles above, I was struck by the statement that introverts get extroverts, but not the reverse. Here's my theory as to why:
Extroverts don't get the statement "I just need to be alone for a bit." For them, being alone is a Bad Thing(TM). They can't process that some people like it. So far, so good, since we have trouble processing that some people enjoy being part of a crowd. The crucial difference comes in how that interaction happens. Extrovert Bob says, "Hey, I noticed you come out back here from the party. Are you OK?" Introvert Bob says, "Yeah, I'm OK. I just need to be alone for a bit." Not being able to understand being alone, what Extrovert Bob actually hears is, "Yeah, I'm OK. I just need to not talk to YOU for a bit."
Summary: Since it is not possible for you to want to be cut off from all human contact, you must be making an excuse to specifically not talk to me.
This is obviously exacerbated by the social rule that a "polite" (i.e., passive-aggressive) way to ditch people who are annoying is to simply avoid them. Make up excuses to not talk to them. Go into another room until they get the hint and go away. This type of shunning is often difficult to distinguish from someone fleeing the room because three straight hours of small talk is turning her brain to cottage cheese. As such, introverts gain labels of snobbishness and even bitchiness (particularly the women). It's not fair, but it's also relatively easy to see from the extrovert's point of view.
In one of the comments to the travel article, a woman talks about going on a trip with her in-laws and inadvertently insulting them by skipping breakfast to get some alone time. I have totally done that to my in-laws on more than one occasion. (It is one reason that I think the vaunted Golden Rule is crap. No one ever appreciates when I treat them the way I want to be treated.) It becomes very hard to say to someone, "It's not that I don't want to be around you, in particular, but simply that you happen to be human and I don't want to be around any humans." I've never found a good, tactful way to say that to someone.
So, to any extroverts who stumbled on this, here's a tip: When the introvert in your life needs to retreat from you, odds are good that he (or she) just needs to recharge some. It has nothing whatsoever to do with you.
Unless, of course, it does have to do with you. But, try to give the introvert the benefit of the doubt first, huh?
"Oh, I know what you mean. I'm totally an introvert too, because I like to read."
*sigh* There's more to being an introvert than simply being capable of existing without human companionship. Just because you can enjoy reading or hiking or other typically solitary activities does not necessarily mean you are an introvert.
More to the point, though, is that being an introvert shouldn't be some kind of badge of honor. It does not mean that you are deep. It does not mean that you are unique, or even unusual. (It seems that the human race is split rather evenly between introverts and extroverts.) And, trust me, it doesn't score you any benefits around the workplace (more on that later).
I have run into a staggering number of people who want to claim that they are introverted, despite clear evidence to the contrary. This is particularly true in the gaming community, which is heavily skewed to the introverted. I think that it is analogous to people in the alternative/artsy community claiming bisexuality despite never once looking at the same gender in that way. It's a weird way of claiming solidarity with the people that are in your tribe.
One of the reasons for this is the persistent impression that gifted people are much more likely to be introverted. Honestly, I don't know if that is true. It certainly seems to be, based on many of the people that I have met and seen in interviews. And yet, I also think that it is possible that there is a lot of confirmation bias there. Introversion is heavily correlated with a tendency to think before speaking (I will leave it to psychologists to determine if there is an actual link). Extroverts tend to think out loud. This has an effect of making introverts seem smarter. As a result, people who want to seem smart claim to be introverted.
This is silly. First, whatever you claim, it will not make you actually act smarter. (Admittedly, certain people will suddenly think that you are smarter, but those types of people are not likely to be sought out for their cunning insights in the first place.) Second, there is a basic fallacy in thinking that, if more gifted people are introverts, then more introverts are gifted. There are lots and lots of introverts that are decidedly not gifted individuals. Third, you really ought to be playing to your strengths. Trust me, extroverts get a lot more play in this world. (Or maybe just this country. I am intrigued by Sophia Dembling's assertion that America is unusually extrovert-friendly. I always assumed that most human societies were like that.)
Can I claim discrimination when the Extroverts get promoted over me?
For my entire professional career, I have pretty consistently gotten good performance reviews. And yet, the requisite "Needs Improvement" section almost always says the same thing: Needs to work on improving communication and socialization with peers. The problem is that I'm an introvert, and those things in particular are very difficult for me. I've noticed that most of the people in upper management are extroverts. One of the keys to success in any field is networking, which often requires extreme extroversion.
So, as a matter of curiosity, can I claim discrimination? Or claim introversion as a disability? Yeah, probably not. Still, it seems like the system is geared against us. Extroverted people typically have better social skills. Salesmen who succeed typically require better social skills. Everything in life, from landing a job to getting a promotion, is selling yourself. (I won't go into the recent travails in our household of trying to help my introverted wife assert herself enough to convince employers that she is as awesome as she really is.) Through application of the Socratic method, then, it would make sense that the group of people who are successful are primarily extroverts. (Note, this is an analysis of trends, tendencies, and types. There will be countless counter-examples and exceptions.)
So, successful people tend to be extroverts. Extroverts prefer the company of other extroverts. Successful people tend to surround themselves with up-and-coming extroverts. Said extroverts also tend to throw themselves into activities such as organizing pot-luck lunches and decorating their workspaces, drawing attention to themselves. Those up-and-comers therefore gain disproportionate access to opportunities. The trend becomes self-reinforcing, putting even more extroverts at the top.
It's certainly possible to fight this trend. Your personal success is dependent on a huge number of factors, and blaming any one is disingenuous at best. However, it can be frustrating to realize that you're on the low end of an uneven playing field. Most particularly when it's a disparity that most people can't even properly identify.
What does this mean in a practical sense? Honestly, not much. Mostly it should just be a point of awareness. I kind of wish there was a way to slip it into corporate diversity training without being unreasonable. After all, it doesn't really compare to the old bugaboos of racism or sexism.
If you're so introverted, why are you still talking?
One of the many amazing things that the internet has brought to the world is a place where introverts can feel safe and comfortable interacting. After all, it's not like we are actual misanthropes. We do like talking to people. Just generally in small, controllable doses. And, when it's not face-to-face, we generally don't have the issue with the energy drain. (Which actually makes me curious, do extroverts get tired when using the internet?)
I have no desire whatsoever to sit around and make small talk. I really, really suck at it. And yet, I find myself capable of engaging happily with complete strangers through social media. Why is this? Well, there are a few simple reasons. First, I can pick and choose what I respond to, in many cases. Unless it is some sort of direct chat, if I don't have anything clever to say I can just not say anything. In "real life" (I hate that term, but that's a whole different post), that kind of thing creates very awkward pauses. Second, I can take a moment to compose my reply. I can even review it for pacing and word choice before hitting "send." I just can't do that when speaking (unless, again, I'm willing to create awkward pauses).
But, the important difference is that, for all intents and purposes, I'm alone when I'm doing it. I don't have to see the people I'm interacting with, or feel them, or smell them. I know that comes across as terribly antisocial, or even snobbish, especially to extroverts. But, trust me when I say that being in the same room with any other people (with a tiny handful of exceptions) is tiring and physically unpleasant, to one degree or another. It is in no way personal. It is not a choice. It is not something I learned. It is just the way I am wired.
So, when I am on the internet, I am generally alone, or in a room with just my wife (who is in that handful of exceptions noted above). This allows my introversion-aligned batteries to recharge, while I'm being socially active. It is bizarre. And wonderful. I still have shyness issues, in that I have anxiety about reaching out to strangers. But, I have no similar anxiety about simply speaking up in a forum, or in blog comments, or the like. That is closer to public speaking, which (as I mentioned way back at the beginning of this post) just happens to be something I excel at.
And something that I am now drawing to a close.