Who Is Really in the Minority?

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I'm pretty sure that introversion is one of the most popular topics for internet memes.

I’m pretty sure that introversion is one of the most popular topics for internet memes.

It’s an unusual day that goes by that I don’t see something on facebook or tumblr or some internet news site about the state of existence known as “being an introverted person.” Introverted people have an affinity for telling the internet all about what it’s like to be introverted, and I myself have written such a thing on this blog. The interesting point is that introverted people are often portrayed, both by themselves and by others, as a terribly misunderstood minority. But if the internet is any indication, introversion is actually an extremely common personality trait. Granted, it is likely that introverted people are statistically more likely to be the kind of people who write about their personalities online instead of actually expressing themselves in direct conversations with actual people. But still, it’s pretty obvious that being introverted is not a unique or exceedingly rare trait.

Bell CurveIn fact, sometimes I wonder if the opposite is the case. Are extroverts the real odd ones out? Obviously, most people fall somewhere near the middle of the spectrum; “normal” people are neither remarkably introverted nor notably extroverted. If everyone was assigned a numerical value based upon how introverted or extroverted they are, those numerical values would surely form a bell curve. But maybe it wouldn’t be a perfect bell curve; maybe it would be skewed to the introverted side. After all, it’s unusual to hear anyone make a case for the awareness of what it’s like to be an extrovert. Is that because it isn’t necessary, or is it because there aren’t many extreme extroverts out there to make such a case?

IntrovertsTo be perfectly honest, most of us introverts can’t even imagine being extroverted. I can picture what it would be like to be a little less socially awkward and a little more friendly than I actually am, but I really have no idea what it would be like to actually feel more comfortable and at-home in a social setting than by myself. I can’t fathom the concept of feeling energized by having conversations. For me, talking to people is like going hiking. It’s a great thing to do sometimes, it’s generally very enjoyable, and I would love to do it more often than I actually do, but it can be pretty tiring and it wouldn’t even be possible to do it constantly. I really don’t know what it would be like to not feel that way.

IntrovertsBut extroverted people, at least those who read stuff online, are forced to know what it’s like to be introverted. They are constantly bombarded with descriptions of how our minds and emotions are different from theirs. You can’t spend much time on the internet without being reminded about the differences between introversion and shyness, reading lists of things that introverts don’t like to be told, or being told that introverts are more likely than extroverts to have any number of other personality traits. The internet frequently points out that introverts aren’t necessarily antisocial, that introverts actually do need some amount of attention and appreciation, and that the best way to connect with an introverted person is to show an interest in whatever book, intellectual interest, or hobby it is that keeps them entertained in their quiet alone time.

From my own tumblr page

From my own tumblr page

Then again, despite the extreme repetition of those facts on the internet, it seems like in-real-life people just don’t get it. I can’t tell you how often people tell me that I need to “come out of my shell,” when as far as I’m concerned, I’m not in a shell. And other times, people comment on how quiet I am, as if I’m deliberately keeping ideas from them, or they advise me that I ought to spend more time socializing, or they think they’re being kind and understanding if they interpret things that I do as being effects of shyness. Sometimes, I keep my mouth shut because I’d actually prefer to just listen. If I refrain from thinking out loud, it’s not because I want my thoughts to be secret, it’s just that my mind works better when I’m not talking. The reason that I don’t spend a lot of time just hanging out with people is that I’m busy with other things that are more important or more fun, and I wouldn’t necessarily be averse to sharing those activities with other people if the circumstances allowed it. When I say or do something really awkward, it’s not necessarily because I’m shy and intimidated; it might just be because I’m awkward. Those are all things that the internet completely understands and can relate to, but real-life people apparently don’t.

Introverts and extrovertsWhen it comes down to it, I think that the misunderstandings really go both ways, and people on either side of the bell curve are a mystery to many of the people on the other side. That’s probably largely due to the fact that most people are pretty close to the middle. But the question remains, are introverted people a tiny minority that has found its voice by making an inordinate amount of noise on the internet? Or are they a slight minority that has found its voice by claiming dominance on the internet and then playing the victim by pretending to be a smaller subset of the population than it actually is? Since the internet has become such a major part of our society, does that mean that introverts are the new “in” crowd? And if so, what impact will that have?

In Defense of Stereotyped Labels

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The rules of political correctness tell us that labels are bad. Sorting people into categories is discriminatory and unkind, and it results in prejudiced and even bigoted treatment of other people. The phrase “There are two kinds of people. . .” should only be used as the beginning of a joke and not as the introduction to an observation about real people in real life. That rule is not contingent upon the number used; it’s just as wrong to claim that there are three or ten or seven billion different kinds of people. (For the record, here is a website where you can find an estimate of the world population and the population of the United States. As you can see, there are more than seven billion people in the world. That is a fairly recent development. Last I had known, there weren’t yet quite seven billion.)

As you might have guessed by my slightly sarcastic tone, I disagree with this rule of political correctness. Of course, it’s wrong, in both senses of the word, to make assumptions about people based upon things like race or socioeconomic status. But that doesn’t mean that generalizations are always wrong. (If they were, it would be wrong to say that generalizations are always wrong. Because that’s a generalization. Just sayin’.) I think that some methods of categorizing people are valid, particularly in cases where a person is somewhat responsible for putting themself into that category.

According to my logic class, this Venn Diagram is upside down.

Take the label of “nerd” for example. That’s a term that implies certain stereotypes so strongly that there isn’t really any correct way of using it without intentionally drawing upon those preconceived notions. The accompanying Venn Diagram helpfully shows that nerds are people who are intelligent, socially inept, and obsessed. The other accompanying picture shows that nerds are people who wear funny glasses and plaid shirts. For further explanations and definitions of nerdiness, I refer you to this webpage. The noteworthy thing is that there really are people who fit this stereotyped definition of nerd. In fact, for the most part, I would identify myself as a nerd, although this classification does not extend to funny glasses or other elements of fashion choice, and I am about as technologically knowledgeable as a pineapple ring. (No, there is no particular reason that I chose a pineapple ring for this comparison. There doesn’t need to be a reason. I claim writer’s prerogative on word choice for my random comparisons.)

According to Google, this is what hipsters look like.

Of course, there is a semi-infinite number of stereotyped labels like that. (Note: I claim personal ownership of the term “semi-infinite”.) There are dumb blondes, hipsters, goths, rednecks, gangsters (otherwise known as gangstas, which I notice that spellcheck considers to be a valid word) and all sorts of others, which I’m not going to take the time to list. Although, come to think of it, it would be really fascinating to conduct opinion polls to come up with an exhaustive list of stereotyped labels and to define each one with a concrete list of personality traits, habits, interests, and preferences in music, fashion, and art.

Here is my suggestion. I think that these labels should be considered appropriate to use in describing people, but according to a spectrum rather than to a binary. In other words, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am or am not a nerd, but I might say that I’m more or less nerdy than someone else, or I might say that I’m more of a nerd than a hipster and more of a hipster than a redneck. Basically, the difference between my proposed system of stereotyped labels and the normal system of stereotyped labels is the same as the difference between the Myers-Briggs personality types and the Big Five personality traits. As I think I have indicated before, I am a much bigger fan of the Big Five system than the Myers-Briggs system, mainly because it acknowledges that there are subtle differences between all individual people.

This is where the data from the aforementioned hypothetical polls would be useful. Just as personality can be measured according to a personal survey, a person should in theory be able to measure things such as their nerdiness or hipsterness (etc.) according to such a survey. I don’t mean an internet or magazine quiz that somebody quickly wrote up just for the fun of it; I mean a scientifically accurate questionnaire. But that would require a very specific definition of each stereotyped label. And since these labels are socially constructed, it would take a sociological study with a large number of participants in order to properly define them.

Someone needs to organize such a study. If I was a sociologist, I would totally do it. If any sociologists are reading this, I request that you do it, and I hereby volunteer to participate. You’re welcome.

There’s this Book I’m Reading, episode 2

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It’s a wonder that I was allowed to watch movies when I was little, because I would usually bombard my parents with questions for days afterwards. I would want to know why Luke Skywalker had to go back to the Death Star and fight with Darth Vader, whose voice it really was that Ray Kinsella heard in the cornfields, why Harry Beaton wanted to run away, and why everyone was so happy when Truman escaped from the Truman Show, even though they had loved watching that show so much. (These questions are in reference to Star Wars VI, Field of Dreams, Brigadoon, and The Truman Show respectively) Then, when I ran out of questions to ask about the plot, I’d want to know what the point of the movie was. I just assumed that any movie other than the most simple and banal cartoon was making some specific and philosophical point. My little kid self wouldn’t have had much of an appreciation for sappy chick flicks. Actually, my non-little-kid self doesn’t care much for most chick flicks either, although I have noticed that non-intellectual genres aren’t necessarily devoid of interesting and intelligent ideas. That’s even more true in the case of books than of movies.

Margaret Mitchell

Although it’s considered a great classic, Gone with the Wind isn’t exactly the most intellectually deep book. In my opinion, it’s actually quite a light read, even though it’s just as long as War and Peace, which is known for not being a light read. I’m not saying I don’t like Gone with the Wind; in fact, it’s actually one of my favorite books, and I read it about once a year. (In case this isn’t obvious by implication, I’m reading it right now) I wouldn’t even say that there’s nothing thought-provoking about it, but most of the interesting ideas it discusses are spelled out in specific detail. As far as I’m aware, there are no subtle meanings in minor plot points, no hidden metaphors in the descriptive sections and the imagery, and no room for analyzing the characters’ personalities or motives, because everything is explained specifically in the text. One doesn’t even need to wonder what the point of the book is, because Margaret Mitchell tells readers: It’s about what she calls gumption.  In my copy of the book, there’s a blurb with a quote from the author that says, “If the novel has a theme, it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong and brave go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption’. So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.”

Is it merely a coincidence that the author of the book and the actress who played the main character in the movie look so much like each other?

It seems to me that in that quote, Margaret Mitchell was being unnecessarily simple and concise. Her book is about a little bit more than people who have gumption and people who don’t. I think that Gone with the Wind is about the differences between people’s personalities in a more general sense. I once read a non-fiction book that used the four main characters in Gone with the Wind (Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Ashley Wilkes, and Melanie Hamilton Wilkes) as examples of four distinct personality types. I’m not in favor of trying to sort people into a small number of personality types, but for the sake of that book’s argument, Gone with the Wind was an ideal example. Each of the main characters’ personalities is in contrast with all of the others’.

Gumption isn’t the only personality trait that Margaret Mitchell uses to differentiate the personalities of the different characters. The other main one is analytical thought. It’s pretty obvious because there are quite a few instances throughout the book in which Mitchell explains a character’s response to something by introducing it with the phrase, ‘Never analytical…’ Scarlett is frequently described as being ‘never analytical’. She takes everything at face value and acts impulsively. She shares this trait with her father and many of the residents of the plantations in the early chapters, but most of the other main characters- Ashley, Melanie, Ellen O’Hara, Mammy, Dilcey, Will- are very analytical. Rhett Butler kind of falls into either category, depending upon the situation. Actually, I suppose that the same could be said for Scarlett, because she’s certainly capable of being analytical when nobody else is there to think things through for her. I think it’s worth noting that, in terms of gumption and of analytical-ness, Ashley Wilkes’ personality is almost completely opposite Scarlett’s, while Rhett Butler’s is almost identical to hers.

I say almost because there’s one significant way in which Scarlett is very much like Ashley and very much unlike Rhett, at least in the first few chapters. She changes her mind about it throughout the book and has several meaningful conversations about it with numerous other characters, which I take as an indication that it’s another very central point of Gone with the Wind. It is the question of whether or not it’s important to adhere to social norms. Scarlett resents many things about the culture in which she lives and the restrictions that it places on her, but she is deeply rooted in the mindset behind them, and so she is reluctant to openly defy them. The combination of necessity and Rhett Butler’s influence persuade her, time and again, to go back on the principles instilled in her, to the point that she becomes alienated from her own culture, rather than being exemplary of it, as she appears to be in the first couple chapters. I said earlier that the book doesn’t leave many questions unanswered, but one that it does leave unanswered is which point of view is right. There are several instances where Scarlett asks someone, usually Rhett or Ashley, if she has done the right thing by rejecting societal values for survivalist ones, and they always give ambiguous answers, even though their own views are quite obvious. From the little that I know of Margaret Mitchell, I think she wasn’t entirely clear on what she thought of that question.

True love, according to the movies

One claim that I am not going to make about the point of Gone with the Wind is that it is a love story. I know that both the movie and the book (which are incidentally more similar than movies and books usually are) have been classified as quintessential love stories, but I think that’s silly. If one reads Gone with the Wind as a love story, it is a pretty bad one, because almost all of the characters are absurdly selfish. Scarlett and Rhett especially are, and they are held up as a prime example of the ideal literary romance. I could go more into detail about the selfishness of all of the main characters and most of the minor ones (with the exceptions of a couple of the slaves, Scarlett’s mother, and Melanie) but that’s not really my point. My point is that Gone with the Wind, just like pop culture in general, throws the word ‘love’ around very loosely and doesn’t really mean much of anything by it. Most of the relationships in the book, romantic or otherwise, are characterized more by selfishness or unbreakable social connections, than by anything that ought to be called love.

The purpose of this picture here is to add color. That’s all.

But although the people in the book don’t love each other, one other prevalent theme in Gone with the Wind is love of the land. In fact, I would argue that it is maybe even more central than the themes of personality differences and societal norms. The plantation Tara and the city Atlanta are described in such detail and are so important to Scarlett that it’s impossible to treat that point as being insignificant, and many of the major events in the plot are related to Scarlett’s love for one or the other place. Besides that, in the section of the book that occurs during the Civil War, there are frequent factual interludes that describe military maneuvers in great detail. Even though it was obviously something that the characters were aware of and concerned about, it seems a little out of place to have those kinds of details scattered throughout a story that is essentially a literary version of the ultimate chick flick. I know that Gone with the Wind is a war story and that Margaret Mitchell wanted to show the horrors of war, but she does that much better in the hospital scenes and the descriptions of the blighted countryside. The stories of the Yankees travelling through the South don’t add much to that, unless the real point is land and ownership of land. And I can think of quite a few quotes from the book (including some from the very beginning and the very end) that would back up that argument.

Thus ends my rambling and hastily written list of opinions about Gone with the Wind. And it somehow ended up being over 1500 words. I’m not quite sure how that happened.

The difference between introverted and extroverted people

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A while ago, I noticed an internet trend that seemed kind of funny to me at the time. There seemed to be a lot of people uploading videos on youtube in which they sat in front of their webcam and talked about being introverted. They would talk about how extroverted people don’t really understand introverted people, they complain that they’re stereotyped as being shy and/or antisocial, they talk about how incorrect those perceptions are, and they usually at some point comment that the internet has really helped them to open up and communicate with other people. (In most cases, these are people who upload a lot of videos to youtube and have a fairly large following) I also have seen quite a few online articles that made more or less the same points. The reason that I was amused was that there didn’t seem to be a good reason for this trend. It seems funny that people in our society are so quick to believe that they’re in an oppressed minority that common personality traits are now considered to be minority groups. But then I started noticing other types of online articles with titles such as ‘Careers for Introverts’ and ‘Jobs for Shy People’ and ‘Good Jobs for People Who Don’t Like People’. (I’m not sure why people who write about the job market seem to be particularly interested in making this distinction, but that’s where I’ve seen it most) It’s as if the writers of these articles actually think that personality is a bigger factor in career choices than job skills, or maybe that one’s personality determines what job skills that person has. Of course, personality plays a role in determining what kind of job a person can do best, but introversion/extroversion is only one of a wide variety of factors that matter. And those ideas of personality aren’t restricted to people who write online articles. In my experience it is true that most particularly outgoing people don’t really connect with people who aren’t naturally friendly. Some people do make false assumptions about others who have different personalities, and so maybe there is some need for introverted people to clear up some misunderstandings.

According to the Big Five system of personality categorization, (which, unlike the Myers-Briggs system, measures people along spectrums instead of dividing them into categories) I am just about as introverted as a person can be. Most people who know me would probably agree with that. My family would probably laugh and say that unless I lied on the questionnaire, it is clearly flawed, because I don’t know how to shut up. Incidentally, that’s one of the things that the Internet Introvert Awareness Advocates (yes, I just now made up that term) always make sure to clarify; introverted people don’t always keep their mouths shut, they just are only talkative in certain situations. I usually am quiet in social situations, but there are certain topics which, once I get started on them, will keep me talking until someone finds the duct tape and sticks my mouth shut. (Okay, nobody has ever done that to me before, but I’m sure some people have thought about it) But those are fairly isolated incidents which usually surprise anyone who doesn’t know me very well. For the most part, I don’t have much to say except in one-to-one conversations with someone I already know, and on the internet. Classmates are often surprised when, after friending me on facebook, they discover that I actually do have a sense of humor (and a weird one at that) and strong opinions about quite a lot of things.

Unlike most Internet Introvert Awareness Advocates, though, I don’t do things like posting frequent youtube videos of myself sitting in front of a webcam and talking about my opinions or life in general. I have, over the course of two or three years, posted quite a few youtube videos, (43, to be exact) but they aren’t webcam vlogs; the few that actually show me are either scripted skits or documentaries of gingerbread house construction. When it comes to internet communication, I am much more comfortable with blogging, so that I can voice my thoughts and opinions without letting anyone else actually see my face or hear my voice. It’s a lovely system and much less awkward than stuff like talking to people, either by internet video or in person.

This is what free time looks like in my world.

That’s pretty much what it means to be an introvert. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like people, don’t like communicating with people, or don’t have things to say to people. It just means that I’m not really in my comfort zone in social situations, even if it’s just a casual conversation. Extroverted people are in their natural habitat with other people; they like to talk because it feels natural and they like to do everything with friends because they don’t like solitude. Introverted people are in their natural habitat alone. I can and do enjoy spending time with other people, but it’s because I like those specific people, not because I like being with people in general. I also enjoy spending time alone, and it’s in those situations where I am most in control of my brain and can decide for myself what the topic of my thoughts should be.

This is what social interaction looks like in my world.