We Need To Rethink The Introversion/Extroversion Dichotomy

Social media reality TV create a culture in which extroversion is aspirational - but introverts aren’t just shy, retiring wallflowers who need to 'come out of their shell'
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After an intense summer of reality TV, with our evenings consumed by endless hours of Love Island and Celebrity Big Brother, I for one am sick of seeing people pitted against one another in ‘personality wars’. Type A vs. Type B, man vs. woman, introvert vs. extrovert. Binaries have long been a part of popular culture, used as a way of categorising types of people, places and things, but the introversion/extroversion dichotomy seems to have returned to the fore thanks to the saturation of reality TV culture and the off-screen role these stars now have on social media.

Social media and these reality TV shows create a culture in which we assume that extroversion is aspirational, because, put simply, if you have an outgoing disposition and get on with others, you’re more likely to win and take home the £50,000 at stake. The contestants who seem to fair even better are the introverts-turned-extroverts – those who are seen to ‘come out of their shell’, having shaken off their introverted qualities, as though these such qualities are simply a cover for the true ‘you’ beneath your insecurities.

Here’s the first red flag. Introverts aren’t just shy, retiring wallflowers, waiting for a game show or a highly-filtered Instagram post to reveal their true colours. We need to recalibrate and relearn what it actually means to be an extrovert or an introvert. This binary is actually just a marker of where we get our energy.

I always saw myself as an extrovert, simply because I was someone that was always surrounded by friends, didn’t shy away from attention and generally enjoyed the company of others. This was what society had told me extroversion was. In the last couple of years, I’ve come to realise that although these traits are accurate, I often feel drained when I haven’t had the chance to spend a time alone to recharge my batteries. It is the act of retreating into myself that energises me, and the energy I gain in doing this can then be expended on time with others.

Time ‘alone’ is never really truly alone anyway, is it? Audiobooks, podcast and radio have been the healing accompaniment to my solitude over the years. They give the impression of being surrounded by others in a passive way: there is no need to respond, engage or find ways to articulate yourself, as there is with so many other instant forms of human interaction. Instead, you can actively listen, consider and contemplate without the pressure to form an instant opinion and standpoint. If anything, interpretations and opinions can become much more established and creative, because you have the time and space to reflect.

That said, time ‘alone’ is, for many, also accompanied by the mindless scrolling through Instagram and the other myriad social media platforms. This is a minefield – how would we describe the people that appear extroverted on social media, that then retreat into the sofa for days on end only communicating with others through a screen? The status of socialising is changing, and inevitably the extrovert/introvert dichotomy will continue to shift as technology develops.

The pressure to constantly engage digitally means that actually many of us are retreating from it. The latter half of the millennial generation, myself included, grew up during the transition from analogue to digital, and many of us are now abandoning social media altogether. An Ampere Analysis survey of 9,000 internet users found that people aged 18-24 (i.e. those in both the millennial and generation Z brackets) had shifted their attitudes towards social media in the last two years. In 2016, 66% had said that social media was important to them, whereas this dropped to only 57% in 2018.

Perhaps this will become a more universal trend. Following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal and a fear over data protection, we are losing faith in the legitimacy of such platforms. Facebook’s stock price has plummeted in the wake of this scandal and their growth has stagnated. Users are starting to question the apps they used to rely on so intensely. Will this lead to a decrease in the number of people retreating into their screens and conforming to the more traditional extrovert/introvert roles?

We need to start addressing when and how we are are truly alone. If this time is constantly interrupted by notifications and mini shots of serotonin, we’ll never be able to recharge our batteries in the necessary way. In the mad, content-driven world we live in, introversion can be paramount, and retreating can leave you much more energised than you might think. As social media and reality TV continues to permeate our culture, we ought to not take what we digest at face value and instead question why extroversion is seen as aspirational when in our ultra-connected world we are retreating more than ever before.