We now live under a kind of extrovert tyranny, says Susan Cain in her new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. It has led to a culture of "shallow thinking, compulsory optimism, and escalating risk-taking in pursuit of success, narrowly defined." In other words, short-termism continues to win the day as extroverts amplify each other's groundless enthusiasms.
Put aside for the moment that the introvert/extrovert binary is a bit of pop psychology, fraught with reductionist silliness, leaning toward indulgent narcissism. Let's hat tip that awkward context and move straight past it: some folks just find it a lot easier to be out going and extroverted than others. The globalization of (social) media has meant that extroverts who Tweet, self-promote, hop on airplanes, hob-nob and glad hand are a step ahead. We don't have to look much further than the work of politics to know even in today's information age the good ideas aren't always the winners: it's the repetitive, attention grabbing, electable, sexy stuff that holds the day.
There is something utterly banal about this. Extroverts have always had a social upper hand, but the difference today is that that advantage, thanks to a variety of technologies and their simultaneity, now extends to almost every aspect of life. Media scholars make a long point of the fundamental shift in the election of American presidents after the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon debate, where it became necessary for an electable American president to be not only well spoken about important ideas, but photogenic. The television actually changed why we vote for candidates, and those changes were largely in favour of extroverts.
Worse, the always controversial William Pannapacker now says that tyranny has extended to one of the last refuges of the introvert: the academy. The introverted promise of the academy, in Pannapacker's judgment, is erased by pragmatic, extroverted trends in culture. Teaching has naturally always been a part of the job, but the burden of relevance and entertainment has shifted to the professor in a more profound way recently. Intellectuals are now expected to leap into conversations on immediately unfolding events, unprompted, regardless of whether they have anything of substance to contribute or not.
To an introvert, such commentary is not only an exercise in simplicity, it's an exercise in duplicity. Real content, real thought is actually lost. Political, economic, and cultural examples of that loss now abound.
The present day is obsessed with action: let's stop talking and do something, the pragmatist motto runs. And I'm political enough to know not everything can be sussed out before steps, especially urgent steps, need to be taken. But if even the ivory refuge of introverts is yielding its place in the shade to stop and have a good think, if even it must be reduced to bullet points and action items and publishing lists, we may indeed have arrived at a tyranny of extroverts.