Time to revisit the ever-popular topic of introversion. There’s this old Atlantic Monthly article on the subject that was discussed recently by Kevin Drum and Chad Orzel. In general I thought this article tended to overstate matters, and was overly harsh on extroverts (maybe this was intended for comic effect). For example, this paragraph:
Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.
The “barking and yipping” bit is just obnoxious, but more importantly, I’ve met plenty of extroverts who understand introversion. Usually they tend to have done some reading on the subject rather than having an intuitive grasp of what it’s like, but they still do understand. On the other hand, it’s true that some extroverts really don’t understand, and when I meet such people they will usually either write me off as aloof and uninteresting, or get offended that I don’t want to talk to them, or regard me as a weird and fascinating specimen in which case I will have to fend off endless questions about why I’m so quiet. So, one shouldn’t do any of these things. But I thought the article went to far in the opposite direction: the author seems to not like to hear people talk at all, and suggests that introverts be left alone:
How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice? First, recognize that it’s not a choice. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s an orientation.
Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don’t say “What’s the matter?” or “Are you all right?”
Third, don’t say anything else, either.
I read this and thought, “That’s exactly wrong!” Because when I’m in a social situation, and I’m not talking to anyone, it’s really great if some extroverted person comes along and talks to me and gets me involved in the conversation. But I realized this relates back to the distinction between introversion and shyness—regardless of how introverted I may be in general, if I go to a party (for example) it’s because I want to socialize and connect with people, and then it’s only my shyness that’s a barrier. So for introverts who aren’t shy, standing alone lost in thought may signal something different.
In any case, one shouldn’t assume that just because an introvert isn’t talking, he doesn’t want to be talked to. The author of the Atlantic Monthly article doesn’t seem to like extroverts very much at all, but I’m the opposite: I often really enjoy conversations with talkative people, because a conversation where I’m supplying only 10% of the dialogue is a lot easier and more comfortable than one in which I need to supply 50%.
I suspect that if I weren’t shy, I’d be a lot less introverted (although not quite extroverted).