We live in world that rewards noisy people.
The Extrovert has been a much admired American archetype pretty much ever since Dale Carnegie published his famous tome. No matter how many popular BuzzFeed articles come out around the topic “Things Only Introverts Understand,” it can be successfully argued that extroverts have won the battle for supremacy. Many of today’s workplaces offer open floor offices and stress an increasing importance on collaborative team work. If you become a parent, you soon find yourself immersed in a world that favors people who excel at small talk and socializing in large groups. Functions like Little League games, play dates and birthday parties become a mainstay of weekend life for many of us.
It seems extroverts dominate in the online world too, where many of us now spend much of our time. There are those who are, well, noisy online. This can mean they post many updates on Facebook, pictures on Instagram or amusing banter on Twitter. I’ve noticed that many, myself included, pay more attention to those who are the loudest. The frequent participants garner more “likes,” comments and “friends” than those who rarely, if ever, post anything. I’ve also noticed that there are acquaintances and people I don’t really know that well who begin to occupy my mind when I’m on Facebook often enough. For example, someone I went to school with posts a tremendous amount, and not about anything offensive or objectionable. She usually shares news or posts photos of her family, all innocuous. But one day I realized I knew more about what was happening in her life than some of my closest friends. That seemed…wrong.
I think it’s easy to forget that while a percentage of people jostle for attention and make noise, there might be more who can’t yell the loudest, and maybe can’t make much noise at all. Maybe they aren’t witty or articulate, able to encapsulate their views in 140 characters. Or they are reluctant to share photos of their family online, or are afraid of privacy issues on social networks. Even on blogs, the supposed hallowed grounds of introverts, I have seen some beautiful and sincere people writing their hearts out with few comments or audience to show for it.
Recently, I decided that I was going to try to pay less attention to the noise and more to the quiet. I began contacting people I hadn’t heard from in a while to see how they were, to find out if they needed anything. The response was astounding. So many people I contacted had enormous things going on in their lives I knew nothing about. Parents were ailing, marriages were breaking up, career changes were happening. Wonderful events were occurring too. Friends were making career changes, fulfilling projects were underway. It was wonderfully rewarding to be there for people who never asked me for anything, but clearly needed something. It was humbling and shameful to realize I should have been more proactive to the quiet and less reactive to the noise.
It’s not that I begrudge the noisy ones. Many people who use Facebook frequently live in isolated regions away from friends and families. There are many lovely photographers on Instagram who use the medium to express themselves. There are some incredible wits on Twitter who have come into their own through the platform. And some people are just good at creating spectacle and gaining attention. Some can turn a phrase like no one’s business, or use their words or pictures in such a way that they tap into some sort of universal connection with their audiences. Like Anne Lamott, for example.
However, I do think there is a danger when we only pay attention to the noise. In a world where we are connected to others in more ways than ever, I suspect the connections ironically can lead to isolation for many, who cannot express themselves for whatever reasons.
As always, I would love to hear what you all think. Do you agree? Or do you think we have enough different platforms so people will be able to get the attention they need in some way or another?