Following a recommendation from The New Centrist (to whom warm congratulations are due, by the way, on the birth of a junior TNC), I've discovered Jonathan Rauch's website, which collects together the contrarian commentator's contributions to various print and online journals. Apparently the article of his which has prompted the most discussion is one in which Rauch poses this question:
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 this seems like someone you recognise, writes Rauch, then 'chances are that you have an introvert on your hands.' And Rauch confesses that the description fits him exactly:
Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests.
He goes on to explode many of the stereotypes and misconceptions that attach themselves to introverts. For example, they aren't shy or antisocial: unlike extroverts, they're just content with their own company:
Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses."
I would guess that much of the interest in the article has been the result of readers recognising themselves in this characterisation. And here I'm going to propose a theory, based on little more than personal experience and speculation: introverts are probably over-represented among regular internet users, and especially among bloggers. My hypothesis is that the internet enables those who tend towards introversion (and yes, I include myself among them, though I usually hate all that Jungian / Myers-Briggsian categorising of people by 'type') to express themselves, interact with others, and even make friends, without all that awkward socialising-and-small-talk business, and to do all of this in their own time and at their own pace. For some of us, the advent of email was a blessed release from the exhausting routine of having to pick up the 'phone, or worse, arrange to actually go and see someone, with all its inevitable unpredictability and open-endedness. Blogging, and commenting on other people's blogs, is a further step forward for us introverted types, enabling us to engage in full-blown, back-and-forth debates, without any awkward eye contact: indeed, without ever leaving the cosy cocoon of home or office.
I was thinking about this the other evening, as I sat on the sofa with my laptop, composing a post in which I mentioned a certain author's book. Within the hour, and before I'd even got up from the sofa, said author had responded with a comment. In the meantime, I'd been reading the latest posts by my virtual 'friends', and catching up on emails from some of my online family history contacts. Just one little snapshot of how the internet has transformed this particular introvert's life.
Seems like they only had the vaguest inkling of all this back in 1969: