Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Introversion vs. Justice?

While taking care of some business the other day, I was the second person in line behind another customer, and the service worker was having a conversation with him encouraging him to take care of some business that he technically could have handled via a nearby computer with her instead, saying something to the effect of "that's what we're here for."

I smiled at that, and when the customer in front of me left, she continued, "that's why I never use the ATM. They're just trying to do whatever they can to replace workers everywhere."

I didn't have anything nice to say to that, so I just attempted another smile, finished what I had come to do, and left. If I had chosen to speak, it would probably have been something like "I really hate going to the teller at a bank. If it wasn't for ATMs, I'd never have any access to my money!"

I've never made a secret of being an introvert. I've never really seen anything wrong (much less sinful) with being an introvert. It simply means that I enjoy doing things on my own, and have to work a bit at doing things that involve other people. It's not that I don't enjoy doing things with other people, but more that, when I do so, I then need to go off to be by myself for a while to "recharge," as often as not. But I've had a couple of incidents over the past month or so where someone has said something that made me think that they thought that introverts were somehow defective. One of them, ironically, involved a person who himself is an introvert, but who talked about ways in which he "overcame" his introversion to do some important things.

On one hand, I want to grant that the service worker and the person who "overcame" his introversion have an important point to make. The service worker is right to decry the loss of jobs for the sake of a quick buck, while the "overcomer" has done some wonderful work on behalf of the urban poor, which likely would not have been accomplished if he had just stayed at home. I agree with both of these people to the extent that the world needs people who look out for the well-being of other people. I just disagree with some of the particulars. I don't see refusing to use ATMs as particularly helpful, and think that there is a sense in which we need to use technology to make things easier to do. If jobs are lost as a result of technology (as they often are), that just means we need to work toward creating new jobs that take advantage of technological advances, rather than fighting against them. To do otherwise makes Luddites, in my opinion. I certainly disagree with the assertion that being introverted is something that must be "overcome." It is who I am. A core part of my personality.

I'm reminded about an article I read a few years ago called "Caring for Your Introvert" that talked about how introverts are often misunderstood:
"It is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert," write the education experts Jill D. Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig.... Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. 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.
That piece apparently got quite a large response when it was first published, and it's easy for me to see why. My experiences aren't especially unusual. We often feel that the rest of the world is not only geared more for extroverts, but is actively hostile to introverts. If it's not fair or just to eliminate jobs just so one can go to an ATM, how much more unfair is it that people should treat introversion as some malady that needs curing?


  1. Thanks for that. I too am an introvert, and finding that balance between taking the time I need for myself and going out of my comfort zone for the sake of something outside myself is always a struggle.

    I had never thought about it in terms of how technology enables my introversion or not though (whether good or bad). It is worth evaluating my own routines, to at least be aware of how I think/act with the conveniences that some tech has allowed.

    I also look forward to reading the full article to which you linked.

    Thanks again!

  2. Sounds a lot like me... I'm also an introvert. What's worse is that most jobs nowadays require an outgoing personality, so even just making a living can mean having to learn how to come out of your shell (or pretending you can). :/

    Although I have to admit I mainly just like ATMs specifically for the convenience. They're open whenever you need one, and they're often much faster than having to wait in line for a teller. I usually only go to a teller if I need to withdraw smaller bills than twenties for some reason. Same with other self-service things like do-it-yourself checkouts... it's just much faster to do it myself.

  3. Jeysie,

    I *love* do-it-yourself checkouts! Unfortunately, most of the places around here that have them seem to have closed them off or taken them out in the past year.

    Besides the "taking jobs away" issue, I wonder if it's because so many people seem to find them frustrating. I find them to be the most intuitive things in the world, but I can't tell you how many times I've stood right behind someone who couldn't figure out what buttons to push, or where to put their money.... S-L-O-W!!!!

    Thanks for commenting (you, too, rhemboro!).

  4. In fact, I often feel that being an introvert is (unfairly so) a sort of "handicap". As everyone knows - "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." Being naturally reticent to "squeak," my needs, and those of my fellow introverts, often go overlooked. I wish I could somehow come up with a way to see that whatever problems or needs I may have are as quickly and thoughtfully addressed as those of my "squeakier" counterparts... We shouldn't be penalized or "have to go without" things being down just because we're more hesitant about "causing a scene."

  5. oh, and I completely agree about the self-serve checkouts. It just kills me how some folks can't seem to understand how they work.

    Move out of the way so I can scan my groceries and leave, please! ;)



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