A few days ago my friend Elmo (no, not the one one From Sesame Street) posted this article on Facebook about the power of Introversion. It’s a thought-provoking piece and, coming from the Philippines, one which spoke to my friend about the nature of Western Civilization (particularly the USA). The scales in this culture are set up for Extroverts to thrive, and Introverts to adapt. It’s an astute point. In fact the article actually quotes a pastor who believes that God isn’t pleased with him because he “likes spending time alone.” That’s just twisted.
Being a Geek, however, I immediately took the contents of that article and pondered how the spectrum of Introversion to Extraversion might impact the way that we interact with this “always connected world.” I’ve come accross several blog posts over the last year which attempt to wrestle with the our digitially connected world. All have spoken of being chained to their phones, laptops, tablets – slaves to the digital world. They speak of the stress hearing the notifications for e-mail, text messages, and phone calles because it feels like they are trapped at work. Invariably, the articles speak of turning off their devices and learning to take a sabbath from tech. When I read them I tend to be confused. There are times where I turn my phone on vibrate or my IM client off because I just need some time to collect my thoughts or read and there is just too much going on. These are usually during crunch-times, like rolling out a new web-site or the final stretch before Annual Session, when I’ve got too many pans in the fire and multiple people are asking me when their food is going to be done. Most of my time, however, my tools are generally left on – and I don’t stress out about recieving a notification or letting a message wait until I’m ready to process it. To me, being “always connected” is what frees me to be alone to think, read, process, and create.
I used to think this was a generational divide. The posts I read (and comments I hear) about the negative pervasiveness of technology come, almost invariably, from Boomers. They grew up in, and remember, a time before these tools were pervasive – and so tend to lack the instincitve filters that their children and grandchildren tend to possess regarding our communications tools. As I read the linked article, however, I began to wonder if introversion and extraversion were an additional factor in the way we related to our personal communication devices. I think perhaps it is.
Extraverts tend to crave stimulus. Crowds and racous gatherings not only don’t phase extraverts, they thrive on them. Their instinct tends to be surrounded by such. Yet, whether introverted or extraverted, human beings need both quiet and stimulus – this is what makes being “always connected” potentially disasterous for extraverts. They lean away from quiet and crave stimulus – and so they jump whenever they hear their devices beep, chirp, and (for the truly retro) ring. It is their instinct to do so. When I read posts of people who are crying to be free of their digital chains, I’m wondering if this isn’t the cry of the extravert. They feel their lack of quiet, but can’t find it when they’re always being connected. For an extravert, unplugging for set times may be essential for their well-being.
Introverts, on the other hand, tend to crave quiet. Loud parties and crowds wear them out. For an introvert like me, then, our digital tools appear to be a God-send. Like all people, I need both quiet and stimulus to be healthy – by my instinct is to be quiet and alone. I could easily spend hours reading, watching a movie, or playing a game and never feel the need to talk to another human-being. I notice, however, how being in such a position too long is detrimental for me. After hours on my own, I often have a difficult time relating to people when I have the chance to be out in community. The digital tools at my disposal, however, mitigate some of the negatives of my instinctual tendencies. I can be alone with my thoughts, ideas, and writing – yet while I do so I can check in on a person preparing for an operation, comfort someone who is grieving, or get a “life-update” from someone I haven’t seen in a bit. I can even see some of the goings-on of the people who are in my social circles on sites like FaceBook and Google+. What I find in these digital connections is a bridge between my need for quiet and community stimulus. I get to interact in a way that doesn’t immediately stress me out, and when I then find myself in a situation which does stress me out, I find myself better prepared for the experience.
Like all things, however, how we deal with digitial technology isn’t (ironically) “on or off.” There are extraverts who don’t feel like these tools are a chain around their necks becuase they know how to carve space out for quiet. My daughter is one of these people – extraverted though she is, she’ll spend hours reading books closeted in her room (Heaven help the introverts when she emerges in need of community stimulus). There are also introverts who view digital tools with mistrust because they feel pressured into turing “always connected” into “always responding.” Some of the introverted pastors (who will remain nameless, but you know who you are) I work with have expressed as much to me. Still, I’d like to see some work done on how the combination of generation and introversion/extraversion affect the way we relate to our digital tools.