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