“Your book got a huge reception. Your TEDTalk got a huge reception. Which makes me wonder, What is it about now? Why are we just having someone spread this idea now? What was it that kept it from coming out before?”
That was my biggest question for Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s part of my general obsession with the question of how technology is changing us. Cain writes and talks about introverts, and in particular how our culture is structured around the habits and strengths of extroverts to the point where the kinds of contributions introverts can make are minimized or missed altogether. As I say in the question, the response has been overwhelming.
But why now? Introverts have been around for a long time, and the social pressures to be extroverted are at least 20 years old, if not 200. Cain’s take:
“I would say this about now: We have a mania for all things collaborative. The word collaboration has taken on a kind of sacred dimension. Collaboration can be a wonderful thing, obviously; I just think we’ve gone crazy with it, we’ve gotten lopsided with it, so we’re at this moment when many people are working in open-plan offices. They’re spending all their days in meetings. You can’t pick up a business magazine ever without seeing the word collaborate splashed all over it. I think people are probably feeling assaulted by the need to always be on and always be interacting. So people are seizing anything that gives them permission to say, “No, I actually want to off by myself. And that’s okay, and that’s going to benefit everybody.”’
What sparked this crazy for collaboration? Here, a lot of people would point to technology (i.e. The Internets). Is all this collaboration because of the social nature of, well, social media and all the other interactivity that’s been enabled? It’s possible we’ve discovered a new way of interacting and went hog-wild with it, and now we’re starting to pull back and ask, “What do we really want out of all these shiny new smartphones and twitters?”
Or is it just a swing of the pendulum, and the drive to be collaborative drove the popularity of social media?
That’s a question I didn’t get to with Cain (and since the piece clocks in at 4000 words already, readers are probably glad I didn’t), but it’s something I’m obsessing about.
Anyway, there’s a lot more great stuff in the Q&A, including what it’s like to give a TEDTalk as an introvert, the problems with office and school design, and how all of this relates to the Orchid Hypothsis (subject of an upcoming book by David Dobbs, which I can’t wait to read.)