Jonathan Rauch wrote the most popular essay

The Atlantic has ever run, at least judging by web traffic. Three years later,

he revisits its themes in an interview,

talking about the problems that introverts have with extroverts. I was particularly

struck by a this:

I marvel at Michael who can always somehow turn the conversation right over

effortlessly and keep it going even when what he says is not necessarily profound

or interesting. What he comes up with is perfectly tuned to the sense and

flow of the conversation. But it’s not words that are particularly intended

to convey ideas or mean things. It’s words that socialize—that simply

continue the conversation. It’s chit-chat. I have no gift for that. I have

to think about what to say next, and sometimes I can’t think fast enough and

end up saying something stupid. Or sometimes I just come up dry and the conversation

kind of ends for while until I can think of another topic. This is why it’s

work for me. It takes positive cognition on my part.

The weather’s not interesting. But once an introvert gets on a subject that

they know about or care about or that intrigues them intellectually, the opposite

often takes hold. They get passionately engaged and turned on by the conversation.

But it’s not socializing that’s going on there. It’s learning or teaching

or analyzing, which involves, I’m convinced, a whole different part of the

brain from the socializing part.

I do think that there’s been, in the last ten years or so, a major economic

resurgence for introversion—the "geek" economy. The prototypical

geek is really good at thinking, has superb powers of concentration (which

tends to be an introvert trait), and works very well independently. They’re

often pretty awesomely brilliant people.

When I read that, I couldn’t stop thinking about Oliver Sacks. Brilliant, yes,

and someone who gets passionately engaged by all manner of subjects. But also

a person with essentially no social skills. Did I mention

that I had dinner with him in December? Sorry, I can’t seem to drop that name

often enough. Sacks is a man with zero interest in small talk, so conversations

with him can feel very stilted, denuded as they are of the normal conversational

lubricants. He doesn’t follow the standard conventions of looking at the person

talking to him, nodding when appropriate, that sort of thing – so it’s

quite easy to feel he’s ignoring you, until he gives you a reasoned and well-considered

and interesting reply which demonstrates that he’s understood all the implications

of what you’ve said. It’s almost like talking to a Turing machine, were such

a thing to exist.

Rauch mentions in his interview that he’s not aware of anybody else writing

about introversion; I think Oliver Sacks has to be the perfect person to do


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