Solitary Snobbery: The Rise of the Artificial Introvert
“There's a difference between preferring books to parties and preferring sixteen cats to seeing the light of day.” - Lauren Morrill
Full Disclosure: According to repeated testing on the personality test on this very website, I have an INFJ personality type.
For decades, introverts have been defending their tendency to draw strength from solitary endeavors. As a result of their tepid behavior in larger groups, they continually have to remind others that they aren't necessarily shy, and that they certainly aren't being purposefully rude. It's just that too much public interaction with too many people simply becomes overwhelming after awhile, and at some point, they need to isolate in order to recharge. Understandable enough, right? Different strokes for different folks as they say.
Within the last few years, though, as the term and its dichotomous (and suddenly nefarious) relative, extrovert, have inundated the common lexicon, it seems as though there has been a flood of individuals blindly insisting that they belong to this more reserved, seemingly more contemplative group.
In most instances, these people do in fact possess the requisite features of an introvert. But I can't shake the thought that in others, the claim to introversion is just one more excuse to reaffirm an individual's perceived uniqueness, their insistence that they are just far too special for anyone else to possibly understand them. They're not socially inept; they're simply exceptional human beings, and mere mortals could not possibly grasp the depths of their brilliance.
To that end, there seems to exist the perception that intelligence and creativity have become the sole property of the introvert, which likewise implies that extroverts are inherently dull and moronic. Of course, there definitely are dull, moronic extroverts, but there are also many intelligent, creative ones. And the idea of patented, across-the-board introvert intelligence is far more moronic than even the most obnoxious attention whore at any collegiate meathead bro-down.
What most self-diagnosed introverts don't realize underneath all that self-indulgent sulking is that they're not mature, healthy, and confident in themselves; they're stunted, confused, and terrified of the big bad world and delusional about their place in it. They're not introverts; they're whiny poseurs, and there is a colossal difference between the two.
True introverts don't choose to shun society and its inhabitants because they're afraid of them or because of a misplaced sense of superiority, nor do extroverts seek out large groups and conversations with strangers because they are insecure and have low self-esteem. The fundamental difference between the two personality types is from where they draw their strength and energy. Introverts are revitalized when isolated or in direct relation to just one or two other people with whom they're exceedingly comfortable. They are fully capable of excelling in larger groups, but find the experience extremely draining. Meanwhile, extroverts are energized by social gatherings and tend to feed off of conversation and interaction with others. This doesn't mean that they don't value personal space or time spent alone, but they often struggle when away from a group for too long.
As stated above, it seems as though I actually qualify as an introvert, so I certainly don't mean to deny the existence of these individuals or their unique skill sets and personality traits. What I do take issue with, however, is people who consciously choose to identify as being introverted without any evidence to support such an assertion other than varying degrees of social ineptitude. Your personality type isn't dependent upon the way society approaches you; it's dependent upon the way you approach society. It isn't something that is haphazardly decided on rainy days spent curled up with a good book or at ecstasy-induced rave festivals. It's what a person happens to be and how that individual happens to navigate the world internally and externally, likely as a result of both their genetics and their upbringing.
Unfortunately, the uninformed interpretation of personality type as a matter of choice, as something that can vary depending on the day of the week or an early morning flip of a coin, has resulted in the development of rampant stereotyping. Specifically, there seems to be a generalized perception that being an introvert necessarily implies a stoic, noble human being, whereas the opposite implies that all extroverts are shallow, moronic, and attention starved. This is great news for brooding teenagers everywhere, who now have an excuse for their sullen immaturity. It's also an exciting time for every adult who happens to be dissatisfied with their lot in life, as they can blame the obnoxiousness of the rest of society for their failed dreams. For these individuals, it's about hiding behind a personality type as a means of masking their own deficiencies, which is a real shame because it does a disservice to actual introverts, who are fully capable of excelling in complex social situations.
David and Goliath
Even more troubling is the effect that this misunderstanding is having on how the rest of society views the two personality types. The two categories now conjure completely separate images, pinning the two personality types in direct opposition in the belief that they are unconditionally different. On the one hand, there's the brilliant but introverted young poet, painter, or physicist sitting contemplatively beneath a majestic oak tree working on his latest under-appreciated masterpiece, while his jocular extroverted counterpart repeatedly flexes his biceps for the pretty cheerleader on the practice field in the distance. Surely someday our youthful genius will vanquish his foes and be celebrated for his unique genius, but in the meantime, he continues to hone his craft with unflappable determination. This kid is smart, so he must be introverted. The jock in the background is a shallow idiot, so he must be extroverted. It's an idealistic notion for anyone who has ever felt insecure, which is to say, for everyone. Unfortunately, it's also absurdly sentimental and unrealistic.
This understanding of the dynamic isn't real; it's simply a romantic projection of these two personality types onto the age-old David and Goliath trope. It allows for introverts to be placed in the position of "Good Guy," and extroverts to become the "Villains." Conveniently for the self-perceived disenfranchised, their oppressors aren't just loud-mouths, or jocks, or bullies anymore, they can all be neatly labeled as extroverts, as the enemy. At the same time the shy, nerdy, weaklings have mistakenly begun labeling themselves as introverts, as the heroes in their own fairy tale.
Where Do the Children Play?
We begin adapting this line of thinking as early as grade school. When it comes right down to it, the "Cool Kids" are nothing more than adolescent versions of the 1% that the rest of society loathes/envies. (In fact, they're usually their offspring.) It's pretty exclusive at the top, so everyone else needs to find their niche further down the popularity rung. Many do so by identifying with the more introspective aspects of their nature.
For proof, just take a look at the rise of Goth, Emo, Hipster, and Vamp kids attempting to close themselves off from what they perceive to be a cruel world. Of course, a lot of these kids are probably introverted, but they err in believing that identifying with a certain personality type means shutting out the rest of the world (especially considering they're actually embracing an extroverted nature by excising their energy through community). The other kids who choose to toss the football around or play four-square on the playground are labeled as the enemy because they are more naturally inclined to interact with their peers. Once these peer groups reach young adulthood, the former has identified as an introvert (whether or not that's actually the case is a moot point for them) and identified anyone not like them as an extrovert - an inferior human being based purely on their capable social skills.
Sadly, this social evolution makes perfect sense in our fast-paced, self-absorbed culture, where he who speaks loudest and most often usually garners the most attention and affection. But this shouldn't be a wholesale condemnation of extroversion, nor should it be a wholesale endorsement of introversion. One is not innately better than the other, and the two cannot be conveniently qualified according to social classification. All nerds aren't necessarily introverts, and all idiots aren't necessarily extroverts. The same can be sad for wimps and bullies, for artists and athletes, for writers and actors. Just because someone is outgoing doesn't make him an extrovert, and just because someone chooses to brood in isolation all hours of the day doesn't make him an introvert.
In fact, it usually just makes him an asshole.
Tartakovsky, Margarita. "7 Persistent Myths about Introverts & Extroverts." Psych Central. World of Psychology. 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.