A (Quiet) Word In Your Ear

In the process of wandering the great and echoing halls of the interwebs over the past few days, I’ve come across several posts and a whole site dedicated to the subject of the introvert. You know the type. Shy, retiring. Doesn’t talk much. Bit of a downer. Clumsy in social settings. Keeps himself to himself.

Well, that’s the common conception, anyway. My reading on the subject have brought up a very different conclusion. One that had me bookmarking pages in delighted relief, as I recognised myself more and more in what was being said, and the discussions afterwards.

The epiphany came at the end of this post in The Atlantic by Johnathon Rauch. I realised that being an introvert was not a choice, but an orientation. This was simply who I was.

So, Readership, the time has come to out myself.

My name is Rob Wickings, and I am an introvert.

Let me explain myself. I came across the Atlantic post, and the astonishing reaction to it while I was at work. (ahem. On a lunch break, of course.) My job ensures that I spend large portions of the day alone, and in relative quiet. Visitors often wonder whether I have been driven mad by the isolated nature of the work. Not so. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. I’ve always been completely comfortable in my own company. I can think, perhaps play a little music. Mostly, though, I’m just happy to sit quietly and watch the images flow across my screen.

The good part of the job is it’s shift-based nature. I get time off in the week. This is a rare delight, padding around the house on my own, cooking, writing, maybe wandering into town to browse bookshops or catch a movie. I’ll chat amicably to shop assistants or passers-by if approached, but otherwise I’m fine just to be quiet and do my own thing.

This is starting to make me sound like a bit of a hermit, which could not be further from the truth. On a day off, I’m happiest at the moment that I hear the key in the door that tells me TLC is home. I have a tight circle of good friends, who I see regularly. I’ve even done karaoke, furfuxache. The one thing I am not, is shy. (OR entirely conversant with sentence construction, it would appear. Hi ho.)

But I’m not especially gregarious. Large parties bother and worry me. I’m terrible at small talk, lousy at gossip and a little bit deaf. This makes clubs and pubs with loud music a bit of a nightmare, unless I’m with a core of people I know and trust. I’ll do them, and can have a good time, but you’ll find I want to go sooner rather than later. Dinner parties, smaller gatherings, barbeques – yeah, fine, no problem. I love people … in small doses. Big gatherings just fluster and exhaust me.

My main bugbear is the telephone. I want to apologise to everyone I know who have ever felt that I have rushed or needlessly cut short a phone conversation. It’s not you. It’s the vector of communication. It cuts off at least half of my chatting skills. If I’m on the phone to you I can’t pull faces, flap my hands about, sketch in the air, shrug, flinch or mime. I tend to think before I speak, which means there’s usually quite a bit of dead air. I just can’t chat on the phone the way I can face-to-face, and it drives me nuts. It should not, then, be a surprise that my choice of phone is one that puts texting and email capabilities front and centre. In fact, the argument that the iPhone’s telephony is it’s weakest feature was just another plus for me.

And yes, I am embarrassed to say, I do screen my calls, and if I’m not in the mood to talk I will let that call drop to voicemail until I’m feeling more chatty. It’s nothing personal. Honestly, it’s not. I’d just rather talk to YOU, not some ghostly approximation. (There are exceptions, of course. Get me on the phone to my best mate from school, and I will happily yak for hours. I think that’s mostly because this is the only way we’re able to talk at length is on the phone. On the rare occasions we DO meet face-to-face, well, then it is kind of difficult to shut us up. And I don’t let calls from TLC purposefully ring out. That’s one voice I don’t tire of, ever.)

The internet has liberated the introvert. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I spend so much time on it. I can express myself in subtle, rich and expansive ways. I CAN SHOUT or whisper. You can always tell when I don’t really mean that insult ;-). Plus, I love to read, and I’m insatiably curious. Frequently I will have a laptop and a book open at the same time, and often the telly will be on as well. My headspace is the place where I feel most comfortable, and the web has given me access to the world and lots of new friends, meeting socially when I feel ready, and on my own terms. It’s a win-win for me, and for a lot of people out there just like me who have absolutely blossomed without all that tedious mucking about in clubs, bars and cafés. Does this make the introvert socially inept? No, of course not, and screw you if you think that. We simply socialise in a slightly different way.

So, what have we learnt? Well, we’ve learnt that I can’t shut up when I get the bit between my teeth, certainly. I’ve discovered that I’m not quite so much of a weirdo as I thought I was, and that’s incredibly liberating.

Your required reading for the day is The Introvert’s Corner, in which Sophia Dembling talks wittily and insightfully about living a quiet life in a noisy world. I can recommend the comments thread on each post, by the way. Typically for a site full of introverts, they tend to be erudite, clever and funny. Features of the persuasion in general, I have to say. We may not be loud, but we’re as sharp and bright as a box of new pins.

And the mailbox for Johnathon Rauch’s original article is well worth a look, too.

Thank you for listening. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a little quiet time.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

7 thoughts on “A (Quiet) Word In Your Ear”

  1. I’m terrible at small talk, lousy at gossip and a little bit deaf. This makes clubs and pubs with loud music a bit of a nightmare, unless I’m with a core of people I know and trust.

    Interesting Post! Well, I am a bit better at gossiping (or listening to gossips, I am terrible at relaying gossips), but the deaf bit and the small talk phobia, that’s me.

    I don’t exactly screen calls, apart from apparent 0800 numbers, but I always keep MSN/Google Talk etc etc on sleep or away mode, so people wouldn’t know I am “on-line”. And I have a habit of avoiding acquaintaces on public transport cos I just want to read my book in peace. On the phone, I am a complete “kthxbye” person.

    Agreed! thanks to the internet, now I can string a few sentences in front of unknown strangers. We shall all swap tips for how to be a successful introvert without alienating people. Ha.

    Will check out the required introvert reading. Thanks.

  2. Hi, Winterbird!

    Glad to be of service. I’ll admit, I’ve done the “hide behind my book” bit with work colleagues on the Tube. It’s just not the time or the place! And my Facebook chat is permanently offline these days. Interaction on my terms, please…

    I recommend the comments on the most recent post of the Introvert’s Corner on the dreaded telephone. Looks like I’m not alone on the call-screening either!

  3. LOL! I love chatting on the phone, can talk for hours, but then my family has telecom in the blood. 😉

    But in other ways I definitely want to pick the times I socialize myself. I hate it when strangers start conversations on me on a bus or a plane (I always bring a good book when I travel, and don’t want to waste precious reading time on pointless chatting) and I dread meating colleagues on the bus home from work.

    I’ve also closed down our communicator at work, because I was disturbed in my work by people who wanted priority. Drove me mad! Why are we expected to prioritize phone calls or instant messaging when we’re in the middle of something?!? You lose your line of thought and need to start over again.

    Great post! Thanks!

  4. It must be a colourist thing, I’m the same. I hate the phone. Don’t like it (Cept Sarah). Txt or chat, those are my friends…

  5. Err is there room for a little one in the Introverts Corner? I find it quite spooky – and comforting – to read you description of the Introvert in this modern world because I see so much of it in me too – The Blogger’s Condition. Give me an outlet but let me be in control of how far it goes…

    The internet is an amazing thing – giving people like me a real chance for expression on one’s own terms while being a tool to find like-minded souls. The phone is my least favourite form of communication. I’m a moody git – if I haven’t had my daily therapeutic dose of Meatloaf or bagpipes, I’m not good to speak to.

    I hate to text too. My fingers aren’t nimble enough for this modern age.

    What I do like about my phone is I can read books on it.

    Good post – thanks, Rob. This is a HOT topic!

  6. Hey, I finally managed to come here and read your post about introverts, which was recommended in that lovely little group of introverts that I am a part of… 😀 😀 😀

    I certainly see parts of me in the articles you linked to and in what you wrote…

    Particularly this “Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day?” from the article of Jonathan Rauch (what a coincidence this name is… ;D) is sooooo me! And I refuse to feel like a weirdo for needing this time for myself…

    I don’t have that much of a problem with the phone, though… But it must be the right moment and the right people… 😉

    I need to find time to take a closer look at the Introvert’s Corner.

    Great topic!!

    Take care

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