Everything was going great during Hugh Riminton’s fireside chat with Hugh Mackay until the very end. Until the point when Hugh Mackay suggested that the digital world was making it harder for people to actually see and connect with each other.
Now, as a very generalized rule, I generally agree. But it’s a point of view that will resonate much more with extraverts who make up arguably half of the population. And extraverts are the half of the population who, by definition, regularly see and personally interact with lots of other people. Putting a digital device into their hands may very well change the number of in-person interactions taking place.
But for people on the introverted side of the curve, the silent half, the quiet half, the half that doesn’t blather on for hours because they need to hear their own voice, the half that stays behind closed doors much of the day, the half that loves libraries and forests and other places of peaceful solitude, the digital world does not close doors. Rather, it opens doors.
For some people, the digital world is the only door to the outside. For some, the outer world is too loud, too complicated, too busy, too distracting. For others, it is too stressful, too fearful, or too anxiety provoking. The digital world offers them a way to experience the wider world with less stress and distractions. It allows them to practice interacting with people in a slow and calculated way.
Pish posh, you say. Get over it, you say. Well, then perhaps you ought to completely change your personality, or maybe just stop being scared of heights or flying or bats. Maybe now is the time to register for that class in empathy. The world is not built like you. Stop expecting everyone to be the same as you.
As for the rest of us, we’ll continue to take full advantage of the digital world. It’s a wondrous thing.
But let’s think about that problem from a different angle. What can we possibly do to get the extroverts to talk less? Or, even more to point, why do we need to have a meeting to discuss this issue as a group?
Where extroverts thrive on meetings for the iterative back and forth, the energetic discussions, the heated arguments, and the hypothesizing and postulating, introverts sit back and wonder why no one is simply getting down to business. Why waste hours of time with talk when all you need to do is write out the issues in an email? Why hypothesize about endless possibilities when all you need to do is have each person write out a list of pro and cons which can then be summarized and circulated by one person?
The problem with meetings is that they are planned by extroverts for extroverts. Introverts have tons of ideas. They just don’t feel the need to share a multitude of extraneous thoughts at the same time. When introverts need input on an idea, they recognize that a meeting is not always necessary. Perhaps all that is required is for each person to write out their input and email it to them.
So how do you respond to those folks who are unable to do so, the ones who insist that their thoughts will be better understood if they are discussed rather than written out? Well, how about a comparable response such as their thoughts will be better understood if they are written out rather than discussed. What a bold idea.
There is no right way to share ideas. There are, however, different ways to share ideas. Perhaps it’s time not to ask how to get introverts to pretend to be extroverts but rather to ask extroverts to pretend to be introverts. Give it a try.