Monday, February 6, 2012

I versus E and the concept of "fun"


I've decided to write about a pet peeve, but I'll try not to turn it into a rant. Please feel free to comment if in fact I'm ranting without realizing. It's been known to happen.

This pet peeve is something I've dealt with my whole life, and have felt bad about my whole life: introverts versus extroverts and the concept of fun. I don't even like writing that "versus" bit. Why should we all be polarized to each other? Why can't the introverts say "hey those guys like to party--cool" and the extroverts say "hey those guys like to talk about the latest sci-fi TV show--cool"? Between partying and discussing sci-fi shows you really can't say that one has more value than the other. Neither one is world-shaking: merely a way to kick back, distract yourself from the daily grind, and hang with your friends, right? Okay, maybe if you're an introvert that would be *friend* singular.

I'm an introvert.

Some people *coughextrovertscough* don't think introverts exist. Rather, I have heard it claimed on many an internet forum or discussion group that so-called introverts are merely ugly people with no self-confidence or friends, but that if they just kicked themselves in the hindquarters, waved a magic wand to produce self-confidence, learned to apply make-up, styled their hair, and bought trendy clothes they would immediately have hordes of friends and be deliriously happy. (Okay, I changed the wording a little.)

I've read somewhere or other that extroverts may in fact live longer or show overall higher signs of happiness with their life than introverts. One personality test I took even made out my introversion to resemble a kiss of death when it came to having a "good" personality. "You're an introvert? Well forget having satisfaction with your life, friends, happiness, joy, a sunny future--heck, you might as well just give up and crawl back under your rock that apparently you emerged from for a few brief seconds to take this test with the hope of some good news only to find out after all that you really do belong under that rock."

Studies, however, suggests that introverts do indeed exist. Here's one. We're not an anomaly, and there may actually be physiological reasons for the two types of people--intros and extros. If you're interested in all the detailed science, by all means, look it up. I can summarize a bit though. Intros and extros use different parts of brain more often (intros use the front, and extros use the back--to generalize very broadly), and like to get a natural high off of different neurotransmitters (those are the chemicals that make things happen, thoughts grow, nerve cells connect, and all that in the brain).  The big one is dopamine.

Extroverts love dopamine. The dopamine they get from interacting with people and jumping off bridges totally gets their juices flowing in all the right ways. They love it so much, and need it so much in order to function happily, that they seek it relentlessly. Extroverts invented afterparties and extreme sports. Solitary confinement is indeed a punishment for an extrovert.

When you were a kid, and your parents sent you to your room for being bad, were you most dismayed at that, or did you just shrug like "whatever, I spend most of my time in there anyway"? For extroverts, who always want to be out and about, this would indeed have been a punishment. Introverts figured "well, all my toys are there, and my books, and my games, and my drawing supplies, and, and, and." To punish an introvert, send him or her to a loud party. Really. I know you extroverts don't believe me, but really. As an introvert, trust me on this one.

Introverts are highly sensitive to dopamine. A little goes a loooong way. Too much, and we start the "I have a headache, I have to go" excuses. Parties charge up extroverts, and exhaust introverts. I call it dopamine burn. That's sort of how it feels: like someone has been sandpapering my head, and if another person comes over to me to chat about something inane I'm going to shoot lasers out of my eyes. Plus, we intros like acetylcholine, I hear. Acetylcholine makes us feel good, promotes rest and relaxation, and encourages thinking.

Intros are big on thinking. That's why we're scientists and authors and poets and designers and old hermits that sit on mountaintops. If we go a little nuts, that's when we start planning to eliminate all humankind with our Raygun 4000 and help our friends the flying squirrels to take over the world--because flying squirrels don't judge us.

Do we network? No so much, unless we *have* to, but do we have friends--yes! Despite being introverts, most of us have friends (I don't mean the flying squirrels...I probably shouldn't have told you about them. Curses!). The thing is, introverts usually have one friend, some have two, a few may have three. Everyone else is an "acquaintance" or perhaps a "research associate." The title of friend is bestowed with much time and experience, and our friends are generally other introverts and highly treasured.

What do we do for fun with our friends? We talk about creative, conceptual, mystical, scientific, psychological, technical, or get-the-job-done stuff. Clothes (unless we're designing and making some), cars (unless we're repairing one), make-up (unless we're analyzing the ingredients), and that sort of thing, not so much. Celebrity breakups? I'd venture to say, never. We play card or board games, or possibly online games (but I'm really talking about in-person friends here). We travel together to historical or beautiful places. We play a sport or take a class together. We gripe about extroverts. We do things that let us think, that get that good-feeling-acetylcholine flowing.

This is the dynamic that makes extros and intros different. It's what makes the couple playing chess look over at the group of twenty having the wet T-shirt contest, and the group of twenty look back, and all simultaneously think "why would anyone do that? What losers."

Here comes my pet peeve. It seems that introverts usually keep this opinion to themselves. After all, extroverts (and pretend extroverts=introverts who follow the crowd to fit in) are far more numerous and majority preference rules, right? However, so many times in my life I've been looked at askance, mistrusted, disregarded, and questioned because I don't like to do what extroverts like to do. I don't go around asking the extroverts why they go clubbing or enjoy bungee-jumping, or accuse them of being a total bore because they don't read books or haven't seen the latest episode of that new sci-fi drama, do I? Nope. Maybe I think it, but I don't say it.

Some extroverts, however, seem to have no such compunctions. I don't party? I must not like people--specifically: them. (Actually, I do like people, just only certain people, in small doses. Whether I like them or not is usually irrelevant). I don't want to go to the football game? I must not have any loyalty to my home team. (Actually, I might or might not be interested in sports, but being crammed into a stadium full of screaming people--um, no. I'll skip that, thanks.)

The flak I've gotten for not going to parties, or leaving after a half an hour, not going to busy events, not being willing to be shoved into a room with a bunch of people for some non-mentally-stimulating purpose (which is a waste of my time, while I could be designing those rocket launchers or finishing writing my book), or not wanting to plunge at high speed across some sort of hard surface, be it rock, water, or snow--appears to be without end.

I make an effort. I go to parties from time to time. I've tried some high speed sports. But since I'm not taking every opportunity to do so, I am apparently making an attack on the extrovert's lifestyle--at least, I am, judging by the reactions. Extroverts, it's not a judgment call on you. It's simply that if I run too much dopamine through my system, my head will explode. Do you really want to pick up all the mushy bits of flesh from that? I didn't think so.

So please, let us introverts go on writing bestsellers and creating inventions. It's okay. If we wanted to, we would be out there doing the stuff you're doing. It's not that we lack self-confidence. We're incredibly confident in the things we do. Heck, we made the hadron collider. You've gotta be confident to create a machine that some people say could destroy the Earth. But you notice it hasn't yet. That's right, we got it under control.

Our choice of fun activity is no more an attack on extroverts than their choice is an attack on introverts--unless we choose to make it so with hurtful words and actions. We have different "feel good" chemicals that are triggered by different things, and thanks to the two types, our species has a much wider range of qualities and capabilities than if we only had one type. This is a good thing! Plus, everyone is a little different on the I-E spectrum. Some people are really extreme at one end or the other, but there are some people that are in the middle, that can enjoy both feel-good chemicals. This is even better! It's okay that we all enjoy different things.

So, if we can, let's try to quit some of the scorn and scoffing and name calling and snubbing. After all, as long as they aren't hurting you, how much does what someone else does matter? I think, not much at all.

There, end of my rant.

Mata, ne.

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