Our always-on society is, in fact, becoming a Golden Age for introverts, in which it has become easier to carve out time for oneself
If my research -- conducted primarily via Netflix -- is correct, America used to be a paradise for introverts. If you weren't a lone cowboy riding the range in a driving snow, you lived on a farm miles from town, opening your front door onto a field of seven-foot-tall corn stalks. Social interactions were planned weeks in advance. (Elections are held on Tuesdays, after all, because that was the soonest people could get to the county seat.) In a time when towns tried to encourage interaction by scheduling seasonal barn dances, the pressure to attend a friend's cocktail party was obviously far lower. Introverts had weeks to come up with good excuses -- and all sorts of ailments (whooping cough, scarlet fever) to blame.
What some describe as an always-on society is, in fact, becoming a Golden Age for introverts.
Then the industrial revolution ruined it. Encouraging people to move to cities, the new world forced interactions from the moment you left your house. Telegraphs made it simple for people to send you messages and telephones then removed even the need to answer your door. Cars were invented, meaning you had no excuse for not traveling across town. Then planes removed any excuse to not travel across the country. The darkest hours for introverts were at hand.
But technology, long the domain of the geeky introvert, stepped up to the challenge. A brilliant first volley was the answering machine: ostensibly a device meant to ensure that a call wasn't missed, it quickly became a tool to ensure that you could miss any call you wanted.
Technology has steadily gained ground. What some describe as an always-on society is, in fact, becoming a Golden Age for introverts, in which it has become easier than ever to carve out time for oneself while meeting the needs of our extroverted friends. That's a key distinction: we live in a time in which introverts can regularly mask their introversion if they so desire.
It's worth considering, of course, what introverts actually find challenging about social interactions. For a thorough, thoughtful answer to that question, see this 2003 piece from The Atlantic. For a cursory and superficial one, read on.
For introverts like myself, it takes energy to engage with other people. Doing so requires thoughtfulness. It's tiring. Expending energy, for us, isn't energizing. Please note: we're not talking about shyness, some character flaw. The problem isn't with the introvert -- it's with the demands you make on the introvert. An introvert can't force an extrovert to sit quietly in a room and read a book, but extroverts (and the stigmas they've inadvertently created) can impose social demands with ease.
So how are we helped by the technology our nerdy allies have built?
The illusion of busyness. You know what I did over the weekend? Took a road trip to Baltimore, attended two work-related parties, and spent most of Sunday offline, hiking in the woods.
Yeah, no I didn't. But with a few simple posts on Facebook, changing my status on GChat, it's simple to pretend that I did. I could spend all weekend at home -- which I did (it was hot out) -- and no one would be the wiser. I can make it appear that I've met society's request that I "live life to the full," while living my life to the full in my own way.