Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Blame Rising Rudeness On Social Media Obsession - Not On Introverts

Arizona State sorority members
Social media zombies gather at  ball game where one took a thump on the head for not attending to the game.

As I noted in a post from 2013,  introverts are often judged harshly in a sociophile culture, where networking, schmoozing are expected and 24/7 social media connection has become almost commonplace. But in the wake of the technological revolution that has made it possible for every person to create his or her own little solipsistic zone is it really fair to blame introverts for rising rudeness? For selective social exclusion and opting out of "social intercourse"?

How can this be when even psych and social media experts quoted in the most recent TIME (Nov. 7, p. 48): point out:

"Parents are also mimicking teens' behavior....they're zoning out, they're ignoring people. They're answering calls during dinner rather than saying, 'O.K., we have this technology. Here are the rules about when we use it."

Now what about the difference between extroverts and introverts. According to the general first year textbook, 'Psychology', used at Clark University (p. 598):

"Extroversion and introversion refer to the main direction of a person's energies, toward the outer world of other people and material objects or toward the inner world of one's own thoughts and feelings. The extrovert is sociable, impulsive and enjoys new experiences, while the introvert tends to be more solitary, cautious, and slow to change. Extroversion is indicated by affirmative answers to questions such as 'Do you like to have many social engagements?' and 'Would you rate yourself a happy-go-lucky individual?'"

Note that neither type is superior to the other. But often, a superficial attribution of superiority occurs depending on the culture, the nation. Thus, in Russia and Germany the extrovert is seldom admired and usually looked upon as a clown or buffoon. In the U.S., meanwhile, introverts are distrusted as "loners" - often rendered synonymous with psychos.  In a highly social society, they are viewed as having deficits, or at least being rude.

I now  refer to a NY Times essay 'Am I Introverted Or Just Rude' (Sept. 24) by KJ Dell'Antoniia, who writes:

. "Then came the introversion explosion, led by Susan Cain’s “Quiet": The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Suddenly, a resistance to social intercourse became, not just acceptable, but cool."

This is, of course, balderdash. In a sociophile culture like the U.S. resistance to social intercourse would never be considered "cool" and contrary to Dell'Antonia's misplaced imaginings the caricature of the "loner" still holds strong.  Who, what personality type, is usually blamed first after a mass shooting? Well the neighborhood loner! ('He was always by himself so he had to be up to no good!') Even the alleged JFK assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was virtually convicted of the crime based solely on being a "surly loner". (Add in the "commie" part confected by the CIA's sheepdipping  and he was virtually hung,  drawn and quartered too, in the lurid media portrayals the day after.)

While 'Quiet' did bring greater understanding of the introvert in a culture that tilts extrovert, it did not at all make it "cool" to be one or to hide in bathrooms reading at parties.. Or - to extend KJ's  line of distorted reasoning -  to use as an excuse to avoid social intercourse.  But let us admit that once a distorting meme or mind virus has been planted it is difficult to overcome its power. So she ruminates on:

"Around the same time as the publication of “Quiet,” in 2013, I turned 40, and achieved a certain level of professional success. It seemed like permission not to try quite so hard. At first, saying “no” to fund-raisers and coffees brought with it a keen, ]almost illicit pleasure. What freedom! I started slipping out of meetings and school assemblies at the first possible moment instead of staying to chat.

On one delicious occasion, I sat in my car and read a book while my children attended a family-oriented athletic function. It was all so easy to excuse. I wasn’t neglecting my friends, avoiding my fellow parents or letting my community engagements suffer. I was preserving my energy, engaging in self-care"

But merely because KJ finds it convenient to exploit Cain's book to engineer cynical social exclusion on "delicious occasions" doesn't mean a majority of true introverts would.. It is instead a reflection of the author's own selfish,  conniving nature and her desire to rationalize social engagement on her own terms. . It has nada to do with genuine introversion. The reason is that those of us who are introverts don't have to dream up exotic sources or rationalizations  to validate our own inclinations. If we've read widely enough we know they can actually be traced to genetics. (In every other Stahl generation since 1821, as Janice's ancestry research has determined, extreme introverts have appeared.)

The fact is  at least 1 in 3 humans are born with the genetic markers of intros (see the book  'Nature's Thumbprint') and hence it's as much an abomination to expect introverts to become extroverts as it would be to expect short men or women to always wear 6" heeled shoes to fit in with "tallies". It also leaves enormous human potential unused if those introverts are discriminated against and made to pay a steep status and economic price.

Dell'Antonia goes on:

"Extending ourselves can actually be good for  us. We forget that we don't always know what makes us happy."

Ahhh, but see, people who are able to leave devices behind, and get in touch with their own thoughts without external electronic chatter or static, are much more likely to KNOW what makes for contentment as opposed to discontent.   Thus, I don't actually have to go into a loud, smoky and crowded bar to know I'd be totally miserable there - same thing with a rock concert. To put a finer point on it, the same TIME article notes how today's teens are often mired in depression or even odd behaviors like "cutting" because they can't deal with the constant connections of social media.  As one school counselor quoted in the piece put it:

"At no point do you get to remove yourself from it and gain perspective."

Why the hell not? Are these kids slaves to their devices? Are they the masters of their twitter feeds,  instagram, snapchat or do those apps rule them?   Are they genuine humans with autonomy and brains, or puppets? Other experts quoted observed that: "this hyper-connectedness now extends everywhere, engulfing even rural teens in a thicket of internet drama".

Which is pathetic. But it makes my point that if any one really needs to know what makes them happy they need to detach from their sundry apps and devices before calling out one personality type as being responsible for a plunge into rudeness.

Fifty years ago, in what the TIME authors call the "olden days" the only social media device was the land line telephone. There were no pocket phones to take with you and if you wanted to call a gf you had to ask parents' permission, you couldn't just tie up a line for hours. And if they did let you talk on the phone it was limited to 15 minutes.  There was no chance of a kid getting hooked or delirious from "hyperconnectedness"  in artificial relationships on social devices like today.

Again, it is these points that dash Dell'Antonia's arguments because she takes no account, zero, of how it is actually social media devices and their overuse that are causing social alienation, and an epidemic of rude behavior..

Dell'Antonia's hit job was actually preceded- several years ago - by another biased set of nonsense. In that British study, led by Catharine Gale of the University of Southampton,  which concluded in an article appearing in The Journal of Research in Personality that extroversion had “direct, positive effects on well-being,”  Gale and her colleagues examined data on 4,583 people compiled by the National Survey for Health and Development, conducted by the U.K.’s Medical Research Council. All were born in 1946; they completed a short personality inventory at age 16, and again at age 26.

Decades later, when the participants were 60 to 64 years old, 2,529 of them answered a series of questions measuring well-being and their level of satisfaction with life. They also reported on their mental and physical health. Their answers point to a distinct pattern. “Even after a period of nearly 50 years,” the researchers reported, “extroversion is a direct predictor of wellbeing.”

But at least in a genuine science like physics, such a methodology - using future subjective responses from participants to validate earlier data, would be looked askance on.  Imagine, if you can, asking 4, 583 solar and space physicists if they believed auroras were loading or unloading processes. The researchers would be laughed out of the seminar room and all their data called into question.

But as in physics we ought to expect a much higher standard from researchers even remotely connected to a mental health field, who should not fall for such loose thinking. ( Extroversion was assessed by determining their sociability, energy, and “activity orientation.” Neuroticism was assessed by such measures as emotional stability, mood, and distractibility.)

Clearly, it doesn't take a professional psychologist, only someone who has worked in a strong scientific research field, to see these researchers loaded the dice against introverts. They did this by their choice of methodology, their biased emphasis - reflected in determination of "good-positive quality" markers -  and their obvious tendency to incorporate selection effects and not notice them.  How else explain lazily posing neuroticism opposite that of "healthy" extroversion?

One is almost led to conclude that Gale and all her co-workers were extroverts, hence were unable to see the bias latent in their approach to the study, the statistics and selection bias.  In much the same way one is led to conclude that Dell'Antonia is really a closet extrovert - who merely wishes to exploit introversion for her own selfish purposes. Thus, to avoid social contact unless it's 100 percent where and when she chooses.

Again, KJ's blind spot in her reasoning is glaringly revealed at the end of her piece. like Gale's blind spots are in her "research". Dell'Antonia writes:

"I may be naturally reserved and more comfortable alone than  I will ever be in a crowd but I am not at the mercy of my nature."

Fair enough, but would it not be truer to say that knowing and respecting one's own nature trumps being coerced into fake social engagement (such as detailed in the TIME article), where teens are on the verge of breakdowns because of "hyperconnectedness"? I would think so!  The failure, in fact, to gain self-perspective and instead allow oneself to be led by the nose (or cell phone) is a recipe for personal and social disaster.

My argument again is that KJ's emphasis is misplaced, a point further reinforced by her next sentence:

"There are many excuses for failing to conduct ourselves with courtesy, for avoiding gatherings and conversations we don't think we will enjoy or for just putting our pajamas on and staying home.....Too many boil down to just one thing, we care more about ourselves than about the needs of others."

Correct, so why not then acknowledge that going out is useless (as well as bloody rude)  if all one is going to do is snapchat to avoid the company, or have one's face buried in one's smart phone?  Would it not be better, more honest, for the person to stay home rather than go out and be device-disengaged for the duration?  This is especially true for introverts, but hell, I'd rather be in the company of an introvert -comfortable and socially engaging in her home - than force her to go into the public sphere where she might be immersed in her smart phone.

Dell'Antonia is correct when she writes:

"This is not about introversion."

Fine, then perhaps revise your piece and make it about the takeover of real social discourse, actual social intercourse, by electronic media apps  that only serves to suck up our time as they divide us - and convert us into navel-gazing boors.

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