Introverts and extroverts

I find the classification of people into introverts and extroverts to be rather simplistic. While it is bad enough that people are commonly classified into one of these, you also have metrics such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that formalise this classification, with top consulting firms actively using such classifications in their day-to-day work.

What makes introvert-extrovert thing complex is that it is not even a spectrum between introversion and extroversion – you can’t say, for example, that you’re “20% introvert and 80% extrovert”. So you can’t even convert the binary classification into a scale.

The thing is that introversion and extroversion is context sensitive. For example, I like to socialise by talking to people (I HATE “catching up” in cinema halls or loud bars, since they don’t allow conversation). In terms of work, though, I largely prefer to be left alone. Even within that, I sometimes like to talk to people when I’m ideating but wholly want to be left alone when I’m executing on something.

And with each person, there might be different contexts in which they might derive energy from people around them, and contexts where they might want to be left alone. And within each context, whether they want to be with or without people is probabilistic, without a good classifier telling when they want to be how.

So introversion or extroversion is a rather large and complex set of personality traits that people have tried to force-fit not only on one axis, but also into binary classifications. And with it being part of management theory as practiced by top strategy consulting firms, it’s simply sad.

Opening up, yet again

I go through these introverted and extroverted phases. I started off as a loner, and then something happened during a class picnic to Coorg in 1997 that changed me, for what I thought was forever. I suddenly started opening up, made new friends, talked more to my existing friends, gave up all my inhibitions and basically had a good time. That phase continued maybe for a year and half, or maybe more, and then I shut down again. In IIT, I started oscillating wildly. At times I’d be aloof and keep to myself, at other times I’d walk across to the coffee shop in front of my hostel, buy myself a cup of cheap Nescafe and sit down, with random people, and talk and talk and talk.

Between five and two years back, I went through an “online extrovert” phase. I’d forever be online. When available, I’d have an average of four GTalk windows open, chatting with different people about random things. The first thing I’d do when I switched on my home computer would be to find people who were online and message them. It was a lot of fun, though the person who ended up being my wife found it weird that I spent most of my time online, chatting (it did help, though, that she would often be one of the people I was chatting with).

Certain “life changes” and redefinition of priorities and some unexplainable stuff meant that I shut down once again around two years back. Ironically this came only a couple of months after I thought I’d truly opened up and gotten rid of my inhibitions. I suddenly had less time to just “be online”. I’d hardly talk to people. GTalk being blocked in office meant that I disappeared off so many radars which were tuned in my direction. I had less time for “frivolous chatting” after work, and one by one I got “out of touch” with all those people I would chat with regularly. Things were quite good otherwise in life so I didn’t exactly bother, I must mention. Among the side effects of this, I think, was that my writing quality suffered. As did my network, of course.

To illustrate, I spent three weeks in New York City in January 2010. Then, I made every attempt to contact friends and acquaintances who lived in that area. And met them for lunches and dinners fairly regularly. I tried counting the number of people I met during that trip, but it was easy to lose count. I had a good time, I must say. In February 2011, I was in New York City yet again. This time, though, I didn’t make any effort to meet anyone, didn’t inform anyone I was in town. I had most of my dinners alone, in a list of restaurants I’d gathered from a few friends. I met one relative, and one friend (this was by chance), and that was it.

Over the last few days I’ve started making a conscious effort to open up again. Once again, whenever someone suggests we meet, I make it a point to go. I’m making an effort to not bail out of social engagements citing “NED”. I met a friend for tea on Friday, another for tea on Saturday, had a long phone chat with yet another on Friday night and met a whole bunch of people I don’t often meet for dinner on Saturday. And I had a lot of fun in all of them! I do hope I can continue with this streak for a while, and also need to figure out how to expand my network. Anyway, the more perceptive of you would have noticed by now that I’m blogging a lot more nowadays.