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.
Serial communication at work. In the Mad Men days, everyone worked together in one location, walking to each others' desks or offices, or exchanging occasional memos. Now? We're in offices all over the place, using email. We sit quietly hunched over laptops, transitioning even our water cooler conversations to our keyboards.
Email is often fingered as a key factor in the lamentable perpetual accessibility characterizing modern American communication. But it isn't. It allows you to respond when you're ready to do so. In fact, sometimes not responding to email in a timely fashion can give the impression that you're already busy doing other things. Which helps create the space that introverts need.
Serial communication everywhere else. This is maybe the most remarkable achievement. Interacting with people primarily online or serially is now the norm. It's easier to send a message to a friend on Facebook than to call; even for extraverts, it ensures that the outreach isn't a waste of time.