Friday, February 21, 2014

Not So Quiet

6. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I've been looking forward for some time to Cain's well-publicized paean to introversion. For over a year, I've been trying to get it out of the local library and finally, my turn came around. In the meantime, I'd read the critics who said it focused too much on the business world, or overstated the barriers to introverts in pop culture. I actually think Cain covered introversion in a respectable variety of settings relevant to the contemporary American audience. And I agree that she generalizes, but even she admits that in several places. What was really, ironically, lacking from this book was a depth of focus-the very quality that Cain praises so much in introverts. In fact, the book itself is an excellent example of how the media caters to extrovert culture.

Quiet is organized into easily navigable chapters, it's filled with personal anecdotes, lists, and repetitive taglines. It's designed to catch the attention of an easily distracted mind. It covers introversion in the workplace, in education, in relationships, admirably covering all the bases-except that it covers none of them as fully as this introvert would like.

I don't mean to totally pan the book, however. I was disappointed, but I was also mollified to read about experiences that were highly relatable to me. Cain skips a full discussion of what the terms "introvert" and "extrovert" mean nowadays, and, practically, sticks to the Jungian definition. An introvert is overwhelmed by external stimuli, and recharges alone. An extrovert is energized by external stimuli, and recharges around other people. Cain drives home repeatedly the point that introverted nerd stereotypes and outgoing extrovert stereotypes are not always the case. Introverts can be gregarious, extroverts can get stage fright. It's just about how your body reacts to stimuli, but what you do about it is shaped in many different ways, especially your childhood environment. Many people who are naturally introverted are socialized to be, and outwardly appear to be, extroverts.

On Cain's list of 20 introverted qualities, I answered "yes" to 19. However, on her list of qualities associated with shyness or anxiety, I answered "yes" to less than half. I've always said I'm "quiet, not shy" and the studies Cain cites back me up! She discusses long term studies having to do with people's reaction to stimuli as infants and then their behaviors later in life. I wish she had gone more into depth on the various ranges of qualities that are associated with introversion but not necessarily the same thing.

Likewise, I really appreciated and related to the section on introverts in relationships, particularly introvert/extrovert relations. But the entire chapter was based on one amalgamated anecdote. I wish there had been more data and more honest, even if anonymous, interviews. But perhaps I'm asking for material that just isn't available.

After all, I'm glad that Quiet was written and that it's bringing attention to the potential values of introverts. I guess this was more of a book telling the world about introverts, and I was hoping more for a book by introverts, for introverts. Here's hoping.

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