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Does Your Introversion/Extraversion Carry Over to Your Online Behavior?

Extraversion Joanna Young has a great post up on Why Comments Count. In it, she says that "comments suit introverts":

I'm still thinking this one through, but I think there's something about this form of communication that suits us introverted types.  It certainly suits me.

As an introvert myself, I had to agree and pointed out in a comment on her post that I think that the entire practice of blogging, as well as other online social media tools have really been a Godsend for introverts in terms of providing them with a platform for equal expression with the extroverts who seem to rule the "real world."

I've had this conversation before with Christine Martell and now with Sue Waters and it got me to thinking about whether or not our preferences for introversion or extraversion carry over into our online behavior and how we manage our social lives on the web. First, a little background.

Introversion/Extraversion
Introversion and extraversion come from Carl Jung and, later, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. They refer to the attitudes that people use to direct their energy. Introverts direct it inward and extraverts direct energy to the outer world. From the Myers-Briggs Foundation:

Extraversion (E)
I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energize other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.

The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I am seen as “outgoing” or as a “people person.”
  • I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them.
  • I have a wide range of friends and know lots of people.
  • I sometimes jump too quickly into an activity and don’t allow enough time to think it over.
  • Before I start a project, I sometimes forget to stop and get clear on what I want to do and why.

Introversion (I)
I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are  almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.

The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I am seen as “reflective” or “reserved.”
  • I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own.
  • I prefer to know just a few people well.
  • I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough.
  • I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.

Introverts and Extraverts Online
Now I'm an introvert, so I've started to think through how my introversion comes through online. Some of what I see:Introversion

  • I prefer online interactions to face-to-face in many instances, particularly if I'm trying to develop an idea or need some time to respond to what someone else has said. I find that in the real world, (which in the US is dominated by extraverts) I can barely hear myself think because the air is filled with the voices of extraverts, who must think out loud.  But online, I have time to really hear my own thoughts and respond thoughtfully to what other people are saying. I've come to prefer it for most thoughtful conversation.
  • I have a harder time "visiting" other people and "talking" at their places, then I do having people visit me here and responding to their comments. I have to remind myself that I can't just stay at home on my blog and respond to things here--that it's good for me to get out once in a while and talk to people at their blogs.
  • Even online, I still tend to spend a lot of time "alone." I'm more interested in blogging, less interested in Twitter, which to me seems like an extravert's online dream. If you're an extravert, who wouldn't want to know what 500 other people are doing right now, getting a constant stream of "chatter" coming into you? On Facebook, I have about 70 "friends," unlike others who seem to have hundreds. I don't know if they're extraverts or not, but I'm suspecting that the more extraverted you are, the larger your friend network. And I don't even use Facebook that much, or any of the other social networks, preferring to interact one-on-one with people (another introverted tendency), rather than wall-to-wall, which I'm guessing is an extraverted invention. Again, why wouldn't you want the world to know everything you're doing and saying?

I'm sure there's more here--these are just some of my preliminary thoughts as I'm mostly interested in starting to open a dialogue about this with people to see what they observe about themselves.

If you're an extravert, do you find that your online behavior is more in line with your extraverted nature? And if you're an introvert, do your introverted tendencies play out online, too? Also, I'm wondering if you think that there are more introverts or extraverts online? Could it be that social media adoption is being driven by introverted types who finally see for themselves a social outlet that lets them be heard, too?  Let me know in comments what you think--I'm curious about this.

Comments

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Maybe.

But what I definitely know is happening is that in those social exchange online events, places like chat rooms or BBS's, looks and social status is not as important as what people can say in text.

Now are these people now liberated from their shortcomings in physical universe really introverts?

Or are they merely people who'd previously been less likely to have been welcomed in social settings now more likely to become involved in a text-only universe?

Ironically, when I say people whose looks and social status might have made them appear introverted, I'm not necessarily talking about people who aren't attractive, or socially disadvantaged by the way.

Very good looking people (and very well off people, too) often appear introverted for exactly the same reason that people who are are not good looking (or very well off) appear introverted.

Either way their "looks" and "social status" get in the way of open and comfortable communications with others in the physical universe.

When their "looks or social status" are no longer an issue in those venues and so they are able to communicate more openly.

As to Blogs? Blogs are giving everyone who has a point of view (introverts or extroverts and everyone in between) an opportunity to get their thoughts out there for consideration.

I am ISTP, expressive tho. I find forums good. I can deal with people for a while, but like the quiet.

Michele, thanks for picking this up and exploring it some more.

I'm an introvert and think one of the reasons I enjoy blogging is that it provides the opportunity for a slow-burn build up of online friendships, over time. Bit different to you in that I've found this just as enjoyable when I've been 'visiting' elsewhere as it has been hosting conversations at my own site. Maybe it's something to do with the fact that you get a chance to listen, observe, see how the host replies to comments, figure if this someone you'd want to talk to before jumping in. You don't get the same luxury of time face-to-face. It's instant, and can seem superficial.

I know some introverts find social media sites oppressive with the pressure to talk out loud all the time about what you're doing (you'll pick up some of that in Nathania's site that I linked to and you've got here).

I certainly found Twitter too noisy when I first went there and backed off. I got a different perspective from Valeria Maltoni though who talked about listening, and waiting for a moment of connection - when you could communicate, exchange, offer help. And that's when you realise its power - that it's actually another opportunity to exchange in a creative way with people with whom you feel a sense of connection.

That's what does it for me - through our words, actions, choices about whether to comment, respond, link, smile, back off, go somewhere else - we share something of ourselves, get the chance to learn quietly about other people, form opinions, connect with those with whom we feel that sense of connection. Rather than making the connection just because we feel we 'should'.

The whole blogging experience has been good for me in ways I could not have anticipated, and I'm fairly sure that it's in no small part because it's an environment where introverts can thrive. I'd love to know what others think though - and how we can learn from each other's experiences.

Thanks for asking the question :-)

Joanna

What an interesting post! I've found over the years that I'm significantly more extroverted at work--for whatever reason--than I am in my "regular" life. And it's funny, because that carries over into the online world as well; I read blogs but never commented until it became part of my job. Same thing with listservers; I never posted to lists I read until it became part of work.

I wonder what nonprofits and associations (and other online communities) can do to make sure their sites are friendly to both introverts and extroverts?

I feel like I'm not an introvert or an extrovert because I like people and have fierce urges to spend time with them, but I don't necessarily feel the need to talk to people when I am around them. Kind of like how I like reading blogs, but don't always feel the need to comment. So, yeah I guess my behavior on an offline is essentially the same.

Hi Michele
I'm always leery of tags that attempt to categorise or put people in boxes and keep them there. Can be dangerous, and is certainly limiting. We are all of us capable of what are called extrovert and introvert behaviours at varying times. Our personalities are defined by others according to the dominant pattern I would suspect. However in reading over the definitions in the post, I fit both categories quite comfortably at different times and situations, and so do several others who spring to mind.

I'm glad to see this conversation on introverts on so many sites!

For me, allowing myself to be introverted is freeing. The label doesn't keep me in a box - trying to become someone else was keeping me in a box.

I remember when I was single and living in DC. I would be out with people and having a good time. But after a couple of hours, I would find myself needing a mental break. But then I stayed out longer anyway, I was almost the last one to leave a social event. I probably looked needy and I was. I was needy to be understood (which introverts have a hard time getting understanding from extroverts).

Recently, I've swung to the opposite end of the spectrum after being hurt by putting myself out there. Now, I leave early if I show up at all.

Hopefully in 2008, I'll strike a better balance. It's conversations like these that help me do just that.

Well based on these definitions I am not extroverted and maybe that is the problem as Kate points out that categories can be limiting.

Most people I interact with f2f would classify me as an extrovert because if I am around you will hear me and know I am there. Yet I prefer my own company and love silence; preferring to stay home because interacting with people takes up too much energy. Similarly I have a very strong aversion to the phone; hate making phone calls yet happy to communicate with VOIP. And I always prefer online interaction to f2f. Maybe we are just social misfits that find online interaction suits our personality best = geeks?

Now sparking up this entire Netvibes and Google Reader debate -- maybe part of the issue in getting out there and commenting on other people's blogs also relates to the mechanisms people have put in place. I have set up my system so that I am very efficient at managing the whole process so it is easy to make happen. Google Reader means that I can subscribe and read a large number of Feeds which Reader makes very easy to manage. Co-mment (feed through Google Reader) facilitates the tracking of my comments on other people blogs so I can rapidly respond back if I choose.

I would say that I am a mix of both, both in face-to-face situations and online. I am aware that I am a little more outgoing online than I would otherwise be, but that is a conscious decision on my part as a strategy for my professional development/learning.

Oh well - me being me had to do some more research into the topic and the important thing to realise is that I found an online test to determine how much of an The Introvert-Extrovert I am(http://www.nerdtests.com/mq/take.php?id=19). No wonder I struggled with the answer I am balanced i.e. 55 %. Off course now I will have to do more research into the accuracy of this online test :)

But you're thinking out loud in (what you hope is) a public place - behaviour you go out of your way to associate with extraverts. Are you quite sure you know in your own mind what you are?

An introvert would surely have written up a considered, balanced essay on the topic, instead of going of half-cock and soliciting opinions. Bloggers on the whole seem indistinguishable from the pamphleteers of old, and for that reason I'd say with confidence that there are no introverts, and certainly no introverted behaviour, anywhere in the blogosphere.

Wow! Interesting how much discussion this sparked! I guess that one of the things I should have clarified is that many (most?) of us can and do exhibit behaviors on both side of the spectrum and that all of us can be both introverted and extraverted, although we usually have a tendency toward one or the other. Although this can be seen as labeling, I agree with Nathania that it can be freeing to know about and feel OK with introversion, as it is generally the exception in society.

Ian brings up a really interesting and related point--that the act of posting as I did is extraverted because it was a sort of half-cocked, thinking out loud kind of post. This is actually an area of extraversion that I've been trying to cultivate in myself because I find that I can get too caught up in my own mind and thinking and have to remind myself to check in with the outer world to get their opinions. Asking for feedback is something I don't do as well as I should, so I've been trying to use blogging as one way to do that.

My point here being that while we have preferences for one or the other, we can develop the behaviors of our non-dominant preference. This is something that most introverts have had to do for survival in an extraverted world. I know that for myself, I've had to learn to be "social" and make small talk, although when I have to do it too much, it can take days for me to recover.

At any rate, it looks like most of us do bring our off-line preferences online, which I find pretty interesting. Thanks to everyone for your comments--fascinating!

I am an extrovert in real life. Online, people would probably think I'm more of an introvert. It's not that I mean to be, but I'm just too involved in the real world to be online all the time. I usually just say comments here and there and post blogs on my myspace, but that's about it. I prefer hanging out with my friends. But I do have to say that for introverts, the internet is awesome. An introverted person may have trouble making friends in person, and so they can make friends online. And either way, having friends is healthy and fun regardless of where they are made.

I am an introvert in real life. Online, people would probably think I'm more of an extrovert. It's a complete reversal of real life. I found myself able to use pre-existing real-life friend connections to acquire local on-line connections, wowed them with my savvy, then made those people friends in real-life - the end result was being more well-known in person as well on teh webs.
The internet is indeed awesome for introvert expression & communication, plus it gives extroverts a way to talk to 50-million people at once. Our generation is creating so many new styles of interaction, it's nuts i tell you. You can't really 'trust' net-only friends for the most part beyond a certain level, but when you use your mobile devices & computers in an environment where you constantly interact with your peers in person as well, it creates what feels like a synergistic meta-nation. How'd you like to have been born later on this century? What marvels we would witness!

it seems common for commentators refering to introversion/extroversion to attribute it to Jung and then only use the Myers Briggs formulaic labeling take on the concept. Jung observed these qualities and used them as guides for our perspective on our own unconscious and inner development. In particular they are useful when it comes time for development of our inferior function - usually in midlife. as we grow we tend to emphasise a prefered function (for example introverted thinking) at the expense functions we are less comfortable using (in the case of introverted thinking it would be extroverted feeling) which becomes the inferior function. In midlife, the neglected areas of our conscious life have a habit of "erupting" from the unconscious, and it is through the inferior function that this primarily occurs. Jung himself was an introverted thinker and had difficulty with extroverted feeling through his relationships later in life. These days the introverted thinker online is probably the person who initially gets compulsively fascinated visiting addlt and dating sites. with self awareness and over time the internet probably helps introverts find appropriate outlets for the push of their unconscious into extroverted behaviour, and practice for transfering behaviour into f2f.

Conversely for those who have grown up emphasising extroversion, the internet might enable a transition point between the habit of f2f interaction as a habitual coping mechanism, by reducing compulsion for external stimulation, towards the necessity their unconsious presents, of needing to learn about one's inner self; and learning how to be alone. For example the unconsious could emerge as moods or a depression, forcing an inner journey. The reduced sensory cues (touch, taste, smell and sometimes sound)of online interaction may help some towards the inevitable point of beginning interaction with one's inner self.

And there may be other ways the internet will help too - individual differences allowing. It can be a lovely outlet for creativity for example or sharing dreams.

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