The Quiet Ones

man-w-megaphone

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?

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “The Quiet Ones

  1. Always so happy to see a post from you!! When I read this, I kept thinking about that line from Thoreau and how “the mass of men are leading lives of quiet desperation.” That’s what it feels like. We are either unwilling and/or unable to talk online about the real stuff going on and so we suffer in silence. I’d like to think introverts can find a place online to obtain the support they need but I think we have a filter that prevents us from the carthartic “spill” to a world of strangers. I don’t think it negates our experience, but it makes it more difficult, especially as shock value continues to titillate and attract.

    • That’s a great line, and it resonates with me. It’s upsetting to think there are many people unable to receive the kind of support they need, often because they don’t seek support for pretty selfless reasons, Like wanting to spare other people’s feelings or to avoid hurting others just to get that release. Which is why I think the art of one-on-one friendships and conversations is something people should engage in more. I’m trying to do my part 🙂 I love hearing from you, you always have such an interesting take on things.

    • Ana

      Great point KeAnne. I actually pulled way back from my blog when I noticed an uptick in visitors and started getting comments from people I didn’t “know”. I just didn’t feel comfortable revealing much about my life with so many people watching (not writing regularly helped bring those numbers right back down to the double digits!)

  2. Please ignore the misspelling of cathartic…damn phone!

  3. Kir Piccini

    As always you are thoughtful, introspective and insightful.
    I am loud in person, I talk, connect, communicate but I find that exhausting online. I am an extrovert in person, an introvert online. Once in a,while I want to share and post and engage but my life and my heart don’t allow me to the freedom to engage continuously and it tires me.

    Thank you for writing this, I needed to read it.

  4. Yes! I hadn’t given this much thought but last night I found myself jumping around in search of new blogs. Although I wasn’t exactly thinking much about it at the time, I realized later that I just wanted to find low-key blogs of like-minded people working through the usual life stuff. But all I could seem to find were high-polished, well-branded blogs written by people who flaunted long lists of accolades and pretty pictures. It’s not that I don’t respect those people and their online accomplishments but I was disappointed by the realization that it’s so challenging to find the “quiet ones”.

    • I agree there is an increasing tendency to list various accolades when we are online, and maybe because that’s what everyone else is doing? We all want to fit in? Not sure, but I agree with your point.

  5. I love that you thought to do this (reach out to quiet ones) and that you’re doing it. I bet these points of connection are very meaningful.

    And I agree with you.

    This is going through my head now. “Still waters run deep so be careful I don’t drown you.”

  6. Mel

    1000 times yes. I think that is one of the problems with Facebook and why I use it less and less. It’s showing me what it thinks I want to see, and I don’t really want to see 30 posts per day from one person, and nothing from another simply because they rarely post and therefore aren’t dropped into my feed when they do.

    • That’s true about the algorithms. And that penalizes people who just don’t post much unless they think they have something to say on FB. I just noticed a friend who rarely posted just put up beautiful photos of a once in a lifetime trip. Her photos received less “likes” than someone else’s post about step two of a cleanse. Which makes me hate the world a little bit.

  7. The other thing about us introverts is that we don’t like to be the center of attention all the time. It’s just a natural thing. I straddle the introvert/extrovert line when I take the MBTI test and that’s only after a ton of hard work to act more extroverted. I set out to change that preference because extroversion is rewarded.
    Extroverts won a long time ago.

    • True about introverts not wanting attention, most of the time. I guess I worry that in the online and real worlds that reward noise, people are not going to engage enough in activities that being both introverts and extroverts together.

      I am an almost perfect balance of introversion and extroversion, so I guess I see both sides of the coin.

  8. Ana

    What an incredible observation! I honestly hadn’t thought it about it until I read this, but you are right, and its probably a good reason to stay off Facebook and use that time to try to connect one on one with the friends I truly care about. I really love the quiet corners—I’m the one at the party that just wants to sit with 1-2 like-minded friends and have a heart to heart. I prefer the quieter corners of the internet, too. If there are 100s of comments, I click away. I find that an intimate conversation with 5-10 people (or less!) is much more meaningful & satisfying.

    • I’m glad you agree 🙂 I do think the noise distracts from the people and friends we really do want to connect with, and those we might help (and those who can help us in return).

  9. I love this post (even though I took awhile to comment, lol). I am definitely an introvert and I have noticed all my life that the extroverts get all the attention, particularly in the workplace. It was quite interesting at journalism school… we all took print & broadcasting in the first two terms, but had to specialize in the third term, and with very few exceptions, all the extroverted class clowns went into broadcasting (look at me!! I’m on TV!!) while the introverts stuck to print.

    Have you read “Quiet” by Susan Cain?

    • Thank you! 🙂 Yes, I have noticed that the print/online reporters are more introverted as a rule than the broadcast reporters. Totally makes sense. I haven’t read Susan Cain, but now I want to…

  10. Pingback: “Quiet: The Book” and More Thoughts on Self-Help | Too Many Fish to Fry

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