I is for Introvert (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 09 May 2020

I is for Introvert

Social distancing is hitting some people a lot harder than others.

Of course, there are huge inequities that are making life harder for a lot of people, even if they don't know anyone infected with the coronavirus. Distancing is pointing out long-standing inequalities in living situations (how much can you distance when you live in an apartment with an elevator, and get to work on public transit?) and, above all, in internet access. Here in New Mexico, rural residents, especially on the pueblos and reservations, often can't get a decently fast internet connection at any price. I hope that this will eventually lead to a reshaping of how internet access is sold in the US; but for now, it's a disaster for students trying to finish their coursework from home, for workers trying to do their jobs remotely, and for anyone trying to fill out a census form or an application for relief.

It's a terrible problem, but that's not really what this article is about. Today I'm writing about the less tangible aspects of social distancing, and its implications for introverts and extroverts.

I see people going crazy for lack of social contact, desperate to latch on to the next Zoom meeting they can find.

My husband and me? Not so much. We're mostly at home anyway. We communicate with lots of people through email, chat, or other electronic means. Social distancing just isn't that big a change. Going to the store is a lot trickier, with gloves and masks, but mostly it means that we go to a lot fewer meetings ... which is kind of a relief to both of us.

It comes down to the difference between introverts and extroverts. There are lots of different definitions of the terms, and not everyone agrees, in the definition that makes the most sense to me, it boils down to energy. An extrovert is energized by being around other people. An introvert may enjoy socializing, may like other people, but it takes energy; after a while you have to get some alone-time to recharge.

Lots of research and books in the past ten years or so have studied the difference. Society is designed for extroverts; most jobs and organizations involve a lot of meetings, far more than necessary to do the job. Introverts find that exhausting.

Now, when we can't have meetings in person, all the extroverts who run things are going crazy so they're Zooming this and Skyping that. There are more meetings than ever. I had a couple weeks when I had multiple video meetings every day.

Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system (which is developed entirely remotely, by developers across the world communicating electronically with each other), was interviewed a few weeks ago on how to work from home effectively: Pet the cat, own the bathrobe: Linus Torvalds on working from home.

He says, "Don't try to re-create an office from your home. ... If you spend hours in online meetings from home, instead of spending hours in meetings at the office like you used to, you've just taken the worst part of office life, and brought it home, and made it even worse."

The most important thing, he says, is "make it asynchronous, not some 'now everybody needs to attend this stupid web meeting to let everybody else know what they've been doing or what they should do.'" Decisions in kernel development are made mostly via email; there's no requirement that a developer in India and a developer in London have to be awake at the same time, sitting in hours of video calls while someone drones on about how things should be designed.

That's something that extroverts don't get. If they don't see your face in front of them the whole time the discussion is taking place, it seems, they aren't comfortable with the decision that results.

I initially wondered if social distancing might be a chance to change that paradigm, to make the world friendlier for the 33-50% of people who are introverted. Sadly, so far, it hasn't happened; instead, we have wall to wall Zoom meetings, which stresses out the introverts and excludes people, whether introverts or extroverts, who don't have the internet bandwidth for Zoom meetings all day.

If you're in an organization, give it some thought. Think about whether you really need all those video conferences; could you possibly make decisions using email discsussions instead? Your introverted members will thank you.

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[ 13:57 May 09, 2020    More tech | permalink to this entry | comments ]