Introverts, extraverts, and why Twitter is like Narnia

Introverts vs. Extraverts

Qu: How many introverts does it take to change a lightbulb?
Ans: None. Having the lights on just makes more people come and visit.

Introverts get creative energy from time alone whereas extraverts get energy from time spent with others.
Susan Cain’s [pictured above] excellent TED talk on introverts has been downloaded almost three million times. She argues that although introverts make up approximately 33-50% of the population, modern society discriminates strongly in favour of extraverts. Fifty years ago, our classrooms had individual desks, all in rows, and you worked by yourself. Now our classrooms are arranged around circular tables and you work in groups.
Currently, our work-places and schools make it easier for extraverts to excel because they are set up to focus on team work and discussion, with little time for silence or reflection. Our society values the extraverts, and the introverts have felt sidelined.

Twitter: A Parallel World 
I have always loved to read, and would devour books in my childhood years. ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ is one of my all-time favourite books. There was something enchanting about the idea that you could walk through the back of a wardrobe into a magical parallel world.
For the last two years I have been housebound with an autoimmune neurological illness which limits my mobility and my concentration levels. It has been very isolating. Last year, out of desperation for some social contact, I entered the world of Twitter – and felt like I had fallen through the back of the wardrobe.
Like Narnia, it wasn’t so much a virtual world, but one that ran parallel to our own, with slight differences:

  • Famous people were talking without being mediated through magazine or television interviews.
  • People who had never met eachother were greeting each other as friends
  • And most surprising of all, this was the world where the introverts rule.

This was a strange, parallel world in which extraverts, rather than hogging the conversation, would idle by every now and again, pronounce an aphorism or two and wander off without actually interacting with anyone.
My friends who were quiet and withdrawn in ‘real life’, on Twitter were chattering away or SHOUTING REALLY LOUDLY. It was bizarre.
I decided to investigate further. I discovered (from my admittedly modest survey among mine and Vicky Beeching’s followers) that roughly 75% of Twitter users were introverts, and 25% of Twitter users extraverts.  Introverts outnumber extraverts on Twitter by 3:1.
Not only that, but the introverts tended to be those who most frequently interacted on Twitter, those who initiated the most Twitter conversations and those most likely to have a blog where they revealed their thoughts more fully.
On Twitter, people who were extraverts in ‘real life’ behaved like introverts, and those who were introverts in ‘real life’ behaved like extraverts. 

Twitter and the shadow
It made me think of Carl Jung.  He talks about each of us having a ‘shadow’: those parts of our personality that we keep hidden from the world and sometimes hidden from ourselves.
We humans are very contradictory. Think of your own character traits. If you are typically a very responsible person, for example, there will still be the odd occasion where you behave in a childish or irresponsible way. It is not your normal way of being, it is your ‘shadow’.
Normally you repress your shadow, but occasionally it pops up and makes itself known, perhaps in a situation of stress or when your inhibitions are lowered.
For example:

  • someone who’s usually very gentle may turn violent when drunk;
  • someone who is meticulously organised in their work life may have a chaotic and messy house;
  • a man who is very macho may love dressing up as the pantomime dame;
  • an anti-abortionist who is against the taking of life could nevertheless plot to kill a doctor who carries out abortions;
  • the prudent accountant may suddenly blow all their savings on a sports car during a midlife crisis.

These out-of-character behaviours are a manifestation of our shadow.
It made me wonder whether Twitter, the place where introverts behave like extraverts and vice versa is where we reveal our shadow. Could Twitter be a manifestation of society’s ‘shadow’ side, our collective subconscious?

What if Twitter wasn’t a mirror to the world but the world turned inside-out? What if, rather than being a copy of the real world, Twitter was a parallel yet opposite dimension?
I am starting to think that Twitter is not a reflection but a reversal; a converse universe; the ‘yin’ to the real world’s ‘yang’.
Susan Cain has pointed out that society has long favoured the strengths of extraverts, but this could be changing.
Fellow extraverts, be warned: the social media revolution has come and the introverts are taking over the world.
Over to you:

  • Are you an extravert or an introvert?
  • Are you the same online? What are the differences in how you interact?
  • Do you think Twitter is more of a reflection or reversal of real life?


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9 Responses to Introverts, extraverts, and why Twitter is like Narnia

  1. Joy @ Joy in this Journey 21st September, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    “I’m SO EXCITED it’s practically running down my leg!” HAHAHAHAH!!!! That totally cracks me up. Heading over to read the article now. 😀

  2. Kati Woronka 21st September, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    Fascinating article. It’s completely different from my experience – I’m extremely introverted and I have a twitter account but no clue what to do with it so I really just use it to link back to my blog, with a very occasional chat. But twitter SEEMS like such a good idea, I would like to know how to make it meaningful. Maybe I just wasn’t created for Narnia…

    • Tanya 21st September, 2012 at 11:23 am #

      Ha! Perhaps you just need a ‘welcome to Narnia’ map, and then you’d be right at home? 🙂

  3. Vicky 21st September, 2012 at 3:44 am #

    Very interesting. Maybe all introverts really want to be extroverts but are afraid. Social media gives the opportunity to be who you want to be in your own controlled environment so all the introverts can talk and act like extroverts and no one is the wiser.

    • Tanya 21st September, 2012 at 11:22 am #

      Thanks! Susan Cain rightly identifies the pressure to be extravert – Adams McHugh in his book “introverts in t he church’ does a great job of also identifing the pressures to be extravert in the evangelical church. It is an interesting thing to reflect on..

    • brainysmurf 22nd September, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

      I’m not afraid at all. I’d like the rest of the world to ‘get it’ about introversion instead of expecting and rewarding extraversion as ‘better than’. New social tools let me be me and it’s not the same as being an extravert. You’re welcome to read and react to my letter to extraverts:

  4. Jenn LeBow 21st September, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    Tanya, I thought this article was fascinating – the idea of revealing our shadow selves – maybe even finally realizing who our shadow selves are – online. I love your work. Thanks for sharing this with us all.

    • Tanya 21st September, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      Thanks Jenn! I appreciated your comment over on Vicky’s blog too – I’m loving the discussion there!

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