Avoiding small talk is the new kale. That’s right: The trendy bitter green responsible for breakfast shakes that taste like fertilizer was recently eclipsed by a new, less expensive trend called introversion, defined as an “interest inwards toward one’s own thoughts and feelings rather than toward the external world.” An introvert, says American author Susan Cain, in her widely shared TED Talk, “The Power of Introverts” (she also wrote a bestselling book on the subject called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking), is someone who “recharges” in private; “introverts feel alive when they’re in more low-key environments.” They crave social interaction like everyone else, but in the end, they are most at home alone. Cain’s first inkling that she might fit this profile came when she was nine years old at an overnight camp. She wanted to read a book in peace and quiet, but her overbearing counsellor—arguably the most formidable breed of extrovert—thwarted that plan with a highly obnoxious, misspelled cabin letter-cheer of r-o-w-d-i-e! Cain made it her mission to preach the value of those who cherish their alone time, and in turn she launched a movement: books, blogs, and most recently, a torrent of Internet quizzes that seek to determine whether or not you are introverted. (Hint: You probably are.)
Cain claims that one-third of the world’s population is introverted. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if that were a severe underestimation, because if the current social media zeitgeist is any indication—my own Facebook newsfeed in particular—almost everyone I know is now an introvert. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the distinction.
According to one of the most popular introversion pieces circulating on the Internet this month, a Huffington Post article called “23 signs you’re secretly an introvert,” you may be a member of the world’s fastest growing club if you “find small talk incredibly cumbersome,” “networking makes you feel like a phony,” “you’re easily distracted,” “downtime doesn’t feel unproductive to you,” and, my personal favourite, if “on the subway you sit at the end of the bench—not in the middle.”
Considering the breadth of the criteria, Cain may want to re-evaluate the introvert/extrovert distinction and go for something a little more succinct. Maybe: Richard Simmons, and everyone else.
As one young woman put it, after posting a recent article on the joys of introversion to her Facebook profile: “Having a glass of wine in the bath alone. #Introvert.” (Apparently, this is the mark of a loner in the modern age.)
It seems as though the core tenet of modern introversion, beyond social fatigue, is telling anyone and everyone as much about yourself as possible. Perhaps the closest we can get to privacy in a hyper-connected era is claiming we have some. Maybe the recent spark in introversion’s popularity is actually its death rattle.
Beyond the chimera of alone time though, it’s no wonder everybody wants to be an introvert. According to Cain, introverts get better grades, are more knowledgeable and make exceptional leaders. To be introverted is to be in good company—theoretically, of course. “Darwin took long walks in the woods and emphatically turned down dinner party invitations,” says Cain. Forty per cent of CEOs are apparently introverts. Donald Trump, for all we know, is an introvert. It is the ubiquitous condition. Sometimes even I wonder, when inching away from a pungent stranger on a bus, or curling up with a good book after Dexter, if I fit the fashionable mould. And then I remember the last time I hoped a diagnosis would render me special.
In high school I was plagued with anxiety attacks punctuated by a brief period of déjà vu; a sign, said the Internet, that I was suffering from petit-mal seizures. I told my dad, who, while skeptical about the source of my diagnosis, indulged its potential veracity long enough to tell me that if it was any consolation, some of the world’s great minds suffered from epilepsy: Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Alexander the Great. “Some people call it the ‘royal disease,’ ” he told me. I saw a neurologist. It turned out I smoked too much pot.
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