Let's hack introversion...
I've always been on the quiet side. To me, there are few greater pleasures (or comforts) than finding a secluded spot and curling up with a good book. (Extra points if that secluded spot includes a comfy chair and a cup of good coffee, or the shade of a tree and the smell of fresh air and greenery.)
I'm a textbook introvert. Prefer working alone, have always maintained only a few (but very close and dear) friends, and going out for long periods of time in large groups absolutely exhausts me. I don't "dislike" human interaction. but I require (and I do mean require a lot of time alone to recharge).
I posted in another thread that my current job is incongruous with my personality in every way possible. (So you can imagine how drained I am by the end of the day, with having to "fake it" all day long.) I sit in a high-traffic area and am an administrative go-to person, so I'm having to help people with all kinds of random things, not to mention my office is right outside the conference room, so whenever people are waiting for meetings to start or after they've just ended, there are crowds of people who somehow tacitly decide that they should hover around and have endless conversations. Plus, I don't know why this is, but very, VERY few people seem physically capable of standing STILL for more than eight seconds. People fidget like crazy...jingling their keys, clicking the button on retractable pens, fiddling with the change in their pockets. Egads! It's nonstop noise, movement, and just "buzz," know what I mean?
This other thread made me feel like I'm not crazy. Seems like there are plenty of introverts out there. (Hard to realize, since we keep to ourselves, hehheh.) A few things some people said really resonated with. And the "10 myths about introverts" here is spot-on for me. (I was reading the list and thinking, YES! YES! That's EXACTLY it!)
Soooo...my question is, in the grand scheme of ancestral living and more specifically our biological ancestors, do you think there were introverts and extroverts, or is this a modern "creation?" I've been thinking about it in this sense: when we talk about a more "Paleo" lifestyle, it usually involves community. Being part of a group. And of course I identify myself as belonging to several different groups (PH for one, my family, my workplace, etc). BUT...what would it mean in an ancestral sense for someone to NOT WANT to spend a lot of time with the group? To be like, "No, you guys go ahead and roast the pig. I'd rather just stay in the cave by myself tonight..." Or after a long trek/hunt, would there have been some members of the tribe who (after eating) would want to sort of separate themselves from everyone for a while?
Like I said, I've always been quiet and introverted. But I have become much, much more so during the past few years, and my own theory is that it's my way of rejecting all this craziness around me -- lots of people, lots of noise, hubbub, and "buzz." I generally adopt new technology (especially social media) kicking and screaming. I am not the type to be updating Facebook every 3 seconds and I can't STAND the zillions of flashy lights and news tickers on the screen when all I want is a simple news broadcast, y'know? I don't know about any other introverts out there, but for me, it's not just about needing time away from people. It's needing time away from the PACE and the endless supply of DATA coming from all angles. I go out of my way to avoid events that I know will drive me nuts. I even try to do my grocery shopping on a weeknight to avoid the crowds on a Sat or Sun afternoon, and the last place you'll find me is "opening night" of some new "trendy" restaurant.
Does this make any sense? I think it does, as a reaction to the onslaught of the modern world, but how would introversion have played out a few thousand years ago? I don't know that there would have been any advantage to it. All I can think is that during that time, there would have been less to rebel against, so maybe intro/extroversion wasn't as pronounced a personality trait as it is now.
asked byAmy_B_ (8014)
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on May 21, 2012
at 09:42 PM
I honestly think that people are born as natural introverts or extroverts-- I see in my own children that two of them crave and thrive on social interaction and one prefers to curl up with a book, it's just intrinsic to who they are, and neither being extroverted nor introverted is better or worse than the other.
However, I think it's paramount to have a life that's aligned with your personality otherwise you're looking at getting burnt out, overwhelmed, bored, etc-- and you might overreact in other areas of your life to compensate. For instance, the introvert might avoid friends and normally pleasant interactions since they're overwhelmed by the human contact that's necessary due to their workplace-- that sounds like what's going on with you.
I believe that, even in ancient times, that people had 'jobs' that worked for their personal strengths and abilities-- maybe the introvert was the one who scouted for game by themselves or found new sources of food/shelter and the extrovert was the one that led the charge in other arenas. It takes all kinds working together to have a rich and thriving community, if everyone was the same it would be boring as all get out.
on May 21, 2012
at 10:08 PM
I never hear people as loud, obnoxious, or incessantly yapping as people in America. Almost everywhere else I've been in the world people seem very relaxed, somewhat solemn, and hardly speaking. People are together, but not as extroverted as you call it.
I think the American culture pushes people to feel as if being an introvert is not desirable.
on May 21, 2012
at 09:44 PM
I'm naturally an introvert, so I'm not sure modern life has changed that at all. I do, however, have thoughts about alone-ness and also stillness (which you sort of touched on with the fidgeting comment).
I am not trained in psychology or sociology or anything, but I've noticed that once I moved to where I currently live (just outside DC) I just could not deal with the pace of life. For reference, I moved from semi-rural Washington state. (Big difference.) The fidgeting, always moving, going somewhere (and FAST, too) thing really stresses me out. I've consciously slowed down my life as much as possible because of it. Call it reactionary or an attempt to move back to an "ancestral" way of living or whatever. I generally think it's because I'm FROM the west coast and east coast sort-of-city life is against how I've lived for most of my life.
As for introversion, my thing is this: Other than being an introvert anyway, I've tried to disconnect from too much of the always-on/always-connected lives we live now with smart phones, etc. (Yeah, yeah, I'm on Paleohacks too much anyway.) I got rid of my smartphone last year because I really just could not deal with the speed and volume of communication. It's not so much dealing with people that makes me uncomfortable, it's the number of people and amount of communication. I can't naturally deal with that without significant down time. I don't WANT people to be able to contact me at all hours via text, voice, email on my phone or the computer.
So really, I think it's the PACE of life that maybe makes us want to back off a bit and take a hike in the woods alone. I think even in the age before computers we had a little of that. I enjoy time with my close friends and family. I really do. I do not think it's particularly natural to have 1000 Facebook "friends" like a lot of my younger sister's friends do. I think stillness and quiet has nothing to do with introversion. I do, however, think it's absolutely necessary for our well-being--at least in some quantity.
(Sorry for the rambling. I hope that all makes sense. I'm currently waiting for my kids to go to bed so I can have a little quiet time myself!)
on May 21, 2012
at 09:41 PM
Amy, I'm very much like you- except I work in the info tech field which has forced my adoption of all things techie. That means when I get home, I opt for low tech yoga, cooking, anything that is tangible and gets me off a computer/iPad/cell phone.
I've also always been an introvert: I hate drowns. They make me anxious, and for no particular reason. In any crowded place My focus shifts to accomplishing my objective (be it shopping for something quickly and getting out, eating a meal quickly at a restaurant, etc). Some people thrive on seeing others, I'm fine with seeing friends in a private setting every month or so.
As for technology, I have some theories on why people need to feel so connected, facebook, nonstop texting, etc) but I want to think them through more before posting. I do think these non-physical connections are exhausting and can result in a person like you or I craving alone 'downtime'. In addition, by having access to people who are likeminded on forums, social aps, etc from around the world, we create artificial communities that our ancestors wouldn't have had access to.
Communities long ago were formed for survival more than today, where they are governed by our likes/dislikes and focus on entertainment, distraction and personal connection based on commonalities. Long ago during family/community survival was all that was needed to band people together. Nowadays it is very easy to survive "on one's own" as we are never really alone: we have access to services to meet all of our needs- from medical/dental/education/food delivery and more. Even police are commissioned to 'ensure our security'- the catch is that as society has taken advantage of this streamlining of services, we've appointed governments, enforced laws and lost a lot of our freedom in the process.
I'm rambling, but thanks for this food for thought!
on May 22, 2012
at 04:59 AM
Yes, yes, yes! I am in a constant state of overstimulation. Drives me nuts. Am looking forward to reading this new book that's out: "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," by Susan Cain. NY Times bestseller. (View Cain's 2012 TED talk at thepowerofintroverts.com.) I listen to my own inner rhythm. The hell with em if they think I'm wierd, spacey, or whatever. I come from quiet country people. Pennsylvania Dutch. Stoic too. What I'm doing in the big city, I have no clue. Do I sometimes wish I was witty and entertaining and quick on the draw? Sure, but I am pretty certain that as an introvert/quiet person, I am tuned in to beauty and insights that the yakety-yaks miss out on.
on May 22, 2012
at 12:05 AM
I've always been an introvert. I prefer solitary activities and quiet time alone. I'm self-employed and work by myself 90% of the time, and that's an ideal arrangement for me.
But that doesn't mean I don't need or want community, as well. I do have family and friends I care about, and try to spend time with them. I do volunteer work; one of my volunteer positions requires lots of public contact and good social skills--and I'm not only good at it, but I enjoy it. Would I want to do it as a job, all day every day? Oh, hell no; I'd burn out in no time. But I can go "play extrovert" for four hours a week just fine.
In short, I'm an introvert--not a shy, socially anxious, misanthropic recluse who avoids other people.
Even within a very small, close-knit community, there is room for introverts, and I have every reason to believe that there were introverts among our ancestors. Maybe their specialized work within the community was best conducted in solitude. Maybe they were the spiritual leaders/shamans/healers. Maybe they were the ones who created art, wove baskets, made jewelry and other trade/status items, or went out hunting small game or fishing by themselves. They could be part of their community and make significant contributions to its well-being, yet still have time for solitude.
And it's entirely possible that some of them did end up living as solitary hermits, fending for themselves most of the time.
Also, keep in mind that all the "overload" of modern technological society that leaves present-day introverts feeling overwhelmed and wanting to retreat wasn't part of paleolithic life. Maybe the slower pace of life and the close feeling of connection to kin/the tribe made solitude less imperative for ancient introverts, so hiding out while everyone else sat around the fire wasn't such a necessity?
And one thing I just thought of: there are definitely introverted animals. I live with a bunch of cats, and while a couple are extremely outgoing, love having other cats around, and bond with their special "buddies," I've got one who could happily live as an only cat. He's been that way since kittenhood, and he's never been mistreated or neglected; that's just his nature. He gets along with the other cats, but does his own thing. He usually chooses out-of-the-way spots to sleep, and only comes to me for petting once in a while, but he's a good guy who has a secure place in the feline order of things despite being an introvert. So if cats can be natural-born introverts, why not humans?
on May 22, 2012
at 04:50 PM
When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail I noticed that everyone became more quiet, even the extroverted who tended toward hiking in groups and partying a lot. I noticed when we arrived at a place where there were regular, non-hiking people that they tended to speak loudly, shouting when only a few feet from one another. They moved around a lot and engaged in noisy, pointless and even aggressive or destructive activities. I definitely see it as some sort of side-effect of modern life, but I can't say what exactly causes it. Possibly a loss of connection with nature or a loss of having a clear path to follow, simple goals to reach for and achieve. I don't know.
A writer who hiked the Continental Divide Trail possibly tapped into it and described it better than I could. "There was a car-campground nearby. Pre-teen kids were taking turns riding ATVs in circles through the dusty gravel. They were creating forgettable childhood memories, memories they would unconsciously consult as they wandered in circles through the rest of their lives." There is something pointless about our modern lives, I believe.
He also wrote this, which really resonated with me and I think also begins to touch at what is missing in modern life:
"There was another spring at the base of the cliff, under another overhang - Ojo Jarido. [...] I was sure that ancient inhabitants must have seen it as a holy place - the earth giving water - the earth giving life, allowing life. Surely, the earth was important above all things to them, it must have been respected and loved. I was sorry that so many people had lost that connection - who could love a faucet?"
We can turn a knob and clean water always comes out. As a hiker in the desert I have had to seek water from springs and cattle troughs and was provided a visceral understanding of how important clean water is to life. This is taken for granted in modern life.
Our connections with other humans in the era of Facebook and smartphones seems similarly vapid to me as our lack of connection with life-giving water, devoid of visceral connection. Paleolithic man probably could simply sit around others without speaking and be content. Paleo man understood that his connections with people were necessary to life. The activities he engaged in had real purpose and meaning, even when they were purposeless and silly. It wasn't just movement to fill emptiness. In modern life you can't even sense what is missing because all the space is filled with so much buzz and noise.
So basically I'm agreeing that a lot of what passes for social activity is just buzz and noise and probably an offshoot of living modern lives so disconnected from nature and the raw reality of our animal connection with the earth and with each other.
on May 22, 2012
at 01:22 AM
I am not an introvert. I'm an ENFP. And, I'm highly sensitive. I was so happy to find Elaine Aron's work, and know that I'm not crazy. You can read about her stuff here, if you're inclined: http://www.hsperson.com/
She talks about hypersensitivity as personality trait, rather than a problem that needs to be overcome. She worked with lots of well-meaning extraverts who wanted to help shy people 'get over it.'
She found that as a trait, it's present in many species. She has a great example about fish. They're not 'shy,' or 'timid,' they're sort of smart, letting the extraverts bite the worms on hooks, while they live another day to populate the gene pool. That's what makes me think it's more wired, that reactive.
I went to her class, and at the break, she was encouraging everyone to take care of themselves, be quiet if they needed, don't feel obligated to talk, etc. I wanted to babble at everyone because I was so excited to learn all this stuff. That's when I felt the true meaning of extravert. :D
I have a very (very) fine line of ideal stimulation. Not enough, and I'm bored & cranky (extravert); too much, and I'm overcooked and need to withdraw (highly sensitive). Eating clean and paleo gives me a lot more tolerance for the world. I have a lot of challenge knowing where my line is. Having learned about HSPs etc, I'm better equipped to recognize the line, and to take care of myself sooner if/when it's crossed. [and my job absolutely drains me. I became a manager a year ago, and I've been trying to figure out how to get demoted/demote myself for about three months now]
on May 22, 2012
at 05:33 PM
As I went from job to job in the past 10 years, I see a trend towards less cubicles and more open spaces, which is very annoying. It's all fun to listen and chat with other people until you're trying to do critical work on production servers, where one typo can ruin not just your day but many other folks'.
Maybe it's a thing where companies whose management comes from the UK pushes this, but I've seen actual large cubicles go away in favor of open desks, or tiny things that look like cubicles but are actually just a desk, overhead storage, and maybe a pedestal drawer. Sometimes less. (One of the places I interviewed was just open tables crammed together, the last place I worked at had the fake cubes.)
It feels like a panopticon prison. Probably they got the idea from the same place. I'm sure this causes lots of unnecessary stress, where you're heads down working on something critical, but your neighbor has 3 people talking to her chatting away about either work that's unrelated to yours, or not work stuff at all.
Email's the easiest thing to deal with, check it when you want, no face to face, no eye to eye. Respond at will, ignore at will. Phone calls, you can let go to voice mail and turn your ring volume down to where you don't hear it. If they leave a voice mail, maybe it's important, if not, ignore. "Sorry, my phone ran out of battery."
I sometimes prefer to deal with people over IM, I can go and do other stuff, let them think out their thoughts and type them up, then I can respond. The worst is "You there?" I'd rather have them type up what they want rather than interrupt me and keep me waiting for their real query. Feels like 2 interruptions.
Then there's the asshats who go on speaker phone to dial, so you hear a very loud dial tone, followed by their touch tones, follow by a long conversation which only they are involved in and nobody else had to hear it. Had one of those at the last job. Nice guy, except for that one quirk that made me want to throw an atlatl through his chest, then put his head on a spike with a sign underneath that stated his crime for all to see. :)
Good noise canceling headphones (the big ones) help a lot, but not enough - they also provide a visual to walk-ups saying "do not disturb". I find death metal works best because it's very close to noise, and drowns out all the other sounds. Other forms of music just don't work as well. Besides, I enjoy it.
I can usually tell when I need to get away from people when I'm avoid eye contact, feel I want to strangle whomever interrupted me from my work, even when it's work related and relevant. At that point, the only thing to do is walk away, find a park, and look at nature and destress.
on May 22, 2012
at 03:23 AM
I'm like you -- introverted, with an extrovert's job. I work onboard Amtr@k trains in the cafe car, and people mistake me for a bartender or information booth. On very busy days, I feel totally & utterly mentally wiped out, even if it wasn't physically exhausting.
Since introverts are less likely to take risks back in our ancestors days (and now, of course), they might have actually lived longer & long enough to procreate.
on May 23, 2012
at 10:22 AM
Keep in mind just because you like to be alone does not mean you are introverted. The difference between extroversion and introversion is whether or not your behavior is driven internally or externally.
on May 23, 2012
at 09:34 AM
It seems to me that one of the main differences between the paleo environment and the present one relevant to introversion is the size and nature of the group. Paleolithic groups would be a lot smaller and more familiar than the groups we find ourselves in today. The figure of 30-50 (and this is the figure in my evolutionary psychology textbook too; btw that link has more discussion about how our larger group sizes today are in conflict with our evolutionary nature) for the typical size of a cohesive hunter-gatherer band has been suggested, elsewhere 20-60. If you're spending pretty much your whole life in contact with only 30 people, a good number of whom are close relations and who you've known since birth, those relations are obviously going to be a great deal different from the interactions we have with hundreds of different people who we will never see again, on a daily basis. I'm an introvert and find myself substantially better able to cope with interactions with people who I'm very familiar with, perhaps because less cognitive effort is required to accommodate them, more can be done intuitively and one may perhaps be more habituated to things about their presence that would otherwise be intrusive. I also think that when one is very familiar with some-one, one can essentially ignore them a great deal more- long term partners, for example, while having more intense interactions with each other much of the time, can also be silent with each other or simply get on with their own things, without having to engage in various social rituals that would be necessary if one was with a mere acquaintance.
on May 23, 2012
at 05:19 AM
I'm not sure that introversion needs to be hacked. It's not a problem, is it? Are blue eyes a problem? How about freckles? About 25% of the population qualify as introverts. I certainly know that I'm one of them! Here's a good article on the subject:
As far as I'm concerned, I don't know that the modern world has made us more introverted. I think we're just more aware of having to carve out quiet time than our ancestors. In the paleolithic area, people were surrounded by nature and close friends/family pretty much all the time, and had none of the hectic distractions we deal with now. These days the more introverted among us have to make an effort to find some of that tranquility, where for our ancestors it was pretty much effortless. To sum it up, the degree of introversion across time has probably remained pretty constant, but us modern folks have to make more of an effort to honor our introversion.
on May 22, 2012
at 03:34 PM
I think we are born with inclinations to one or the other. I am more introverted but I can still speak before 200+ people when necessary. I think our modern society & culture allows for people to express one or the other more easily than in our past. During our evolution every member of a tribe or community had to contribute just to survive, everyone had a job to do or helped in some way. Granted some members of a group / tribe may have been better solitary hunters (this would be me if I had lived 20,000 years ago) - so those people may have been more introverted, where as most other activities may have been predominately social in nature. Just my speculation.
on May 22, 2012
at 05:26 AM
If you really want an answer to your question, watch a video by a leading anthropologist Helen Fisher on personality type. It fascinating and very valid - worth one hour lecture.
I only was able to find a cached version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFmp3D1CZ14
Please watch and it will all be explained to you.
It has to do something with our brain chemistry.
THE LINK IS FIXED. SHOULD BE WORKING.
on May 21, 2012
at 09:32 PM
If I felt and looked the way I was supposed to I would not be such an introvert. There are those with good skin, nice bodies and happy outlooks and then there are others trying to find themselves and get back to how they feel they should be. Unfortunately as the latter I seem doomed to endlessly trawl internet articles every day to find out why, scared that there is no reason. Some have find answers through paleo, some are still struggling
on May 22, 2012
at 04:02 PM
I am an introvert. I actually thought a lot of this had to do with me being overweight and self-conscious, but all that is gone now. I went to get coffee at the local B&N this weekend and was actually a bit put off because there were too many people there.
I think people living together in tribal times would be content with long silences. They wouldn't be jittering around. They certainly wouldn't be medicated or being a smarmy politician. I think there would be people inclined to a higher level of activity- and they would likely hunt more, move around more, and eat more calories as a result, but it doesn't strike me as reasonable to believe these 'extrovert' social interactions that have been taught to us since the dawn of public schooling in this country would exist. These are part of an attempt at creating the socialist 'new man'.