What would you think if I told you that Western societies, including American society, are unwittingly geared toward extroverts?
As a reflective introvert myself, the thought hadn’t occurred to me until I read “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. In her TED Talk, she explains that major institutions, especially schools and the workplace, are “designed mostly for extroverts, and for extroverts’ need for stimulation.”
Think about that for a second. Group work seems a staple of all levels of education these days, between in-class work, discussions and group projects. Many classrooms are now even set up in pods of desks rather than separate desks in rows.
I recently visited one of Google’s campuses in California, where one of my relatives works. There, like many offices, employees work in an open-concept space with few barriers between desks. There are various rooms and spaces dedicated for large and small group meetings in addition to game rooms and hang-out spaces. Collaboration is highly encouraged, even by the building’s layout.
Let me just say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with collaboration and teamwork. Society would not be where it is today without people working together to solve problems and enact solutions. However, solitude and deep thinking — two things that are better suited to lower-stimulation environments — are also key to work and problem-solving. Schools and workplaces are geared toward extroverts, those who thrive on a higher level of stimulation.
The result is two-fold. One, introverts are implicitly encouraged from a young age to try to put their introverted tendencies aside and be more extroverted. Pushing oneself to be more outgoing and social than is natural can be mentally and physically exhausting. Two, the lower-stimulation environment that is ideal for creative and reflective thinking for introverts is seldom found. Thus, introverts have to make do with a work environment that does not support their preferred mode of thinking. As such, society often overlooks them for being quiet and more resigned. Just because someone is quiet doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking or formulating good, creative ideas.
This phenomenon shows up outside of academics and the workplace too, in the growing use of social media and the idea of fear of missing out (FOMO), something that I’ve experienced for the first time at college. It feels like, no matter where you look around campus or on social media, there are always people getting together and doing something. As an introvert who needs moments of lower-stimulation, being in and surrounded by messages from a fast-paced, high-stimulation society can be frustrating. Social media functions as a constant reminder of what life could be like if I were more extroverted. This then creates a cycle of thinking I need to do things, not having the mental energy to do them, but trying to do them anyway.
All of this ties into the idea of individuality, a quality on which American society prides itself. But in what ways is individuality actually evident in our society? Is it truly a society of the individual? Or is it a society of the loud and enigmatic, and of others — even those who are naturally anything but those qualities — trying to mimic them on basic principles of psychology and sociology?