Much as we hate to admit, we love labels. In our quest to discover, dissect and decipher ourselves, labels make it easier to understand—or at least to think that we understand—why we do what we do. They make it look like there is a pattern to us. And aren't patterns comforting?
So, we are the sapiosexuals. We are one of the 16 MBTI types. We are the wanderlusters. We are the introverts/extroverts/ambiverts/godknowswhatverts.
Every so often, mostly driven by popular culture, one label or another becomes a trend. The sitcoms and movies and TV shows and anime that we watch have the power to make sociopaths and narcissists "cool." How else do you explain the frenzy around the Sherlocks and the Arya Starks and the Light Yagamis and the Hannibal Lecters and the Jokers of the telly world? Of course, part of the reason lies in the fact that these are characters that have been done brilliantly well in their depiction of a true sociopath—charming, impressive, and affable despite gaping foibles and questionable principles.
"I am not the happy, jolly person the world thinks I am," is almost a trope now.
Much the same way, some of us believe that it is popular culture that drove "introversion" to fame, and made it fashionable to be the "aloof type." Introverts—once bullied in high school for being a little bit different from the rest of the crowd, or shunned by fellow kids when it came to selecting teams, or mocked for their choice of clothes — are now being celebrated for their supposed cerebral talents. Their maniac programming skills, their oeuvre of creative expression, their library of obscure and complex literature, the poetic depth of their ached souls, and all that jazz.
Except, not all introverts are into programming or writing or painting or reading gigantic texts. Not all introverts prefer solo walks over meeting people. Not all introverts like being alone all the time. Not all introverts are profound. Not all introverts are "old souls"— a phrase that I personally think is the most painfully desperate attempt at romanticising introversion that introverts ever came up with. And guess what, not all introverts enjoy their introversion— several wish they were not wired this way (I know I do, and lord knows I've tried to change).
We, as a people, have created this caricature of introverts in our mind that we are using to not only discern who is or isn't one, but consciously or subconsciously, to mould ourselves into being one. Over the past several years, I haven't come across a single person describing themselves as an "extrovert", and almost everybody confessing their preference for quiet and solitude. "I am not the happy, jolly person the world thinks I am," is almost a trope now. In fact, there have been times when I lauded someone for their people skills, and they, in response, almost got defensive, to the point of making arguments that would paint a different picture of their closeted self, one akin to the said introvert caricature—aloof, deep, creative, and, oh, sad, definitely sad. As if it is some kind of a sin to enjoy being out there among people. As if there is some kind of supremacy in shunning human interaction or socialisation.
[W]e have also been OKing, perhaps indeliberately (or perhaps not), the dark side of introversion... a compulsive and unjustified hate of other people, elitism, thanklessness rooted in narcissism, unfriendliness...
Perhaps, so many people suddenly (in a relative sense of the word) latching on to the introvert brigade can be explained by a Bandwagon or Barnum effect (or a mix of both). Or maybe I am being cynical. Perhaps, millions of us heterogenous individuals are indeed experiencing this historical moment of self-discovery and actualisation all together and all at once at the same time.
Or, what if this apparent fetishisation of introversion (and I am not the first one to talk about it, of course, the observation has been made by many, as a Google search might reveal) is a biased and untrue perception on our/my end? Perhaps, it isn't that introversion became cool (and as I am trying to imply, mainstream) over the last many years, but that our generation just grew up, or rather matured, and we are misinterpreting our simple, timely evolution as a sweeping cultural shift? After all, as we get older, we start looking for substance to discern who to hang out with, instead of lurking around the popular kid with hopes of being noticed. I don't know what the high school kids of today are up to, but if they are still trying to hang out with the popular kid and mocking the booksy loner who eats alone during recess, then, well, the entire premise that pop culture turned around our society's view of introversion stands defeated.
What troubles me, however, is the blurring of lines between introversion and other personality traits. A likely fundamental attribution error, in the language of cognitive biases, I think. In this seemingly growing fondness for introverts and introversion, we haven't just been OKing solitude, midnight walks, preference for reading over partying, and other rosy stuff the stereotype comes with, we have also been OKing, perhaps indeliberately (or perhaps not), the dark side of introversion—often and almost always made up of one or all of quirks such as a compulsive and unjustified hate of other people, an intolerance for difference of opinion, elitism, thanklessness rooted in narcissism, unfriendliness, or worse, an "ugh I hate the world" attitude that isn't exactly healthy. If you're an introvert, you might relate with at least one of these.
It is great that the world of 2017 finds introverts cool, deep, mystical, and magical, but let us be careful so as not to encourage the condescension that makes up most types of introversion.